Tomie (Oikawa Ataru 1999)


Genre: Supernatural Horror

review in one breath

I must confess that I’ve been looking forward to seeing Tomie for quite some time. For various reasons I’ve seen most of the Tomie sequels prior to seeing this original version. To varying degrees, these sequels were good (or not so good) at conveying manga artist Ito Junji’s original vision of the Tomie character, but now, at last, I’ve visited the mothership and stand before you today, testimony in hand….


The Tomie Films

Tomie (1999)
Tomie: Another Face (1999)
Tomie: Replay (2000)
Tomie: Rebirth (2001)
Tomie: Final Chapter (2002)
Tomie: Beginning (2005)
Tomie: Revenge (2005)

Tomie was Ito’s first published manga and thus holds a central place in his comic universe. When asked to allow his Tomie manga to be cinematically recreated, he personally asked that actress Kanno Miho (most recently in Kitano’s Dolls (2002)) play the part of Tomie due to her eyes which are indeed captivating. In fact, so involved was Ito in this cinematic recreation of his manga that he actually appears within the film in the role of one of the investigative police team. (He’s the shy, artistic one wearing glasses.)

With the Tomie character, Ito intentionally sought to represent the ultimately self-centered, evil woman. This, he said, developed from his personal fear of women in general (which male readers will here readily identify with). Within Ito’s vision, Tomie is a narcissistic monster whose empathy and affection cannot extend beyond herself. The men she encounters become infatuated with her to the point of murderous jealousy, leading them to kill each other and those she despises, until finally, out of desperation and insanity, they turn upon Tomie. This cycle reoccurs innumerable times, and yet she is continually reborn, each time from a piece of her formal self, eternally youthful and beautiful, yet increasingly bored with the frail emotion of humanity.


Twenty year old Izumisawa Tsukiko (Nakamura Mami) is undergoing psychiatric hypnotherapy in the hopes of overcoming complete amnesia of everything prior to what has been described to her as a horrible “accident”. Her nightly dreams are filled with visions of her covered in blood and the fleeting image of a headless corpse. Her shrink, Dr. Hosono (Doguchi Yoriko) and the persistent detective Harada (Taguchi Tomorowo) both know that the the trauma causing Tsukiko’s amnesia was hardly an accident. Rather, she was witness to a horrible murder committed by her then boyfriend Tanabe (Mizuhashi Kenji) of a classmate named Kawakami Tomie, a recent transfer student into Tsukiko and Tanabe’s High school class. Since the murder of Tomie, Tanabe has disappeared, Tsukiko has lost all recollection, and Harada has been increasingly puzzled by the evidence he is gathering.

It seems that Kawakami Tomie, the same Tomie, has been murdered before. A case only a few years old involving her death remains open since, like the current case, no corpse was ever found. In fact, Harada has found many such murders of a victim named Kawakami Tomie, dating all the way back to the Meiji Era (which, for those of you counting lasted from 1868 to 1912). After examining the evidence thoroughly, Harada is rather convinced that he is dealing with something not quite human, while Dr. Hosono seems to require a little more convincing.

In the meantime, Tomie is back in full force, after being nursed by the crazed Tanabe from a mere head in a plastic bag to a full grown, demonic woman, and seems hell-bent on further destroying the life of Tsukiko. This, of course, involves Tomie’s gradual murder of all Tsukiko’s friends and the seduction of her latest boyfriend, Saiga Yuichi (Kusano Kouta). Only when Tsukiko’s recollection returns does she fully realize the monster which is Tomie.


So, you ask, how does this original Tomie stack up against the sequels? I can honestly say that this Tomie (played by Kanno Miho) is indeed the most convincing and formidable of the other (three) I have seen, and this may very well be due to her being hand-picked by Ito Junji to play the role. I can also say that although Tomie has the unfortunate habit of assuming its audience is thoroughly familiar with Ito’s manga, you’ll here find the (relatively) fullest description of who and what Tomie is.

On the down side, however, is the fact that director Oikawa seems more concerned with his depiction of Ito’s phenomenal Tomie than he is with impacting the audience. Its as if you can hear Oikawa thinking to himself that “everything is riding on this movie and if I screw up…”. And that’s a shame. None of the horror dynamic which could so easily be tapped into, given the excellent material and the helpo of Ito himself, is utilized effectively. The result is that audiences already familiar with the Ito’s Tomie are in for a dramatic let-down, while those unfamiliar with Tomie will likely be wondering why people are even talking about this film.

Version reviewed: Region 1 DVD

Cultural Interest

The first film based on Ito’s Tomie. He hand-picks the actress playing Tomie and himself appears in the film.


Not too much violence here other than Tomie’s habitual headlessness.


Some waif nudity, which may well be the only scene in this film where pulses quicken.


I regret to admit that this didn’t even earn one green skull.