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Tomie Unlimited – Review

by Miguel Douglas

@isugoi

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Tsukiko is a member of the photography club in high school. On her way home with friend Kae, Tsukiko runs into older sister Tomie who goes to the same high school. Tomie is also with Toshio—a guy Tsukiko has a secret crush on. Tsukiko is consumed with fierce jealousy over her sister, but at the same time is intoxicated with Tomie’s beauty. Tsukiko keeps pressing the trigger on her camera. At that time Tomie tells her sister that she knows what she is feeling. When Tsukiko stops taking pictures, Tomie is suddenly crushed by a steel frame that falls from a building under construction. One year later, Tsukiko still suffers nightmares over her sister’s death. Slowly, her daily life returns to some sense of normalcy. On Tomie’s 18th birthday, her parents and Tsukiko stand around a birthday cake in her honor. At that time someone knocks on their door. Tomie stands in the doorway with rich black hair and her beauty shining even more brightly.

Stemming from the popular manga series by Junji Ito, Tomie Unlimited is the latest film in the long running horror series revolving around the endeavors of a mysterious girl named Tomie and her disturbing undying disposition. Known as a series that with each new film comes an alternate interpretative stance on the universe and character of Tomie, director Noboru Iguchi continues this tradition by implementing his own interpretation onto the Tomie series. With a background that primarily consists of considerable work within the adult video (AV) industry within Japan, Iguchi has made some surprising headway within the horror genre with one of his previous films, The Machine Girl (2008)—a work which has since become a cult classic amongst many fans of extreme horror. With Tomie Unlimited, his trait for bringing about the peculiar is still quite visible throughout, although it is much toned down here than from the likes of his previous efforts within horror. Still, Tomie Unlimited is perhaps one of the strangest Tomie films to come about in some time, refreshingly reaffirming the series as one of the most enduring cult favorites of Japanese horror.

With a background that doesn’t necessarily appoint Iguchi as a champion of the horror genre, his handling of the franchise with this film is certainly distinctive at best. While other directors have overly exploited the tangible nature of an undead Tomie through the craftiest of death scenes, Iguchi decides to focus extensively on the effects of the persona of Tomie rather than the individual herself. With a focus on the drastic ramifications on the family unit deriving from the intervention of the character of Tomie, her influence is seen through a variety of ways extending outside the realm of simply luring men into her deadly game of deceit and jealousy. It’s in this environment where we see the dangerous influence that Tomie expels onto men being transferred towards that of the family, with Tomie engineering Tsukiko’s family’s steady collapse into chaos. In many ways, the film is more about addressing the grief of losing a loved one rather than Tomie’s actual physical presence throughout, a notion that was heavily relied upon in the past. As the sisterly relationship between Tsukiko and Tomie slowly deteriorates, an increasingly psychological premise becomes quite visible in the film in which sibling rivalry takes precedence and produces a narrative that is slightly above the simplicity that many past Tomie films have adhered to. It’s this approach that garners some much-needed creativity within the film series; a series that has often times had its films wildly differ from one another in both direction and homage to Ito’s creation. This is not to say that the film doesn’t delegate much of its time towards Tomie exploiting the weaknesses of men for her own personal gain, but it’s certainly interesting to see the film allocate much more time towards the degradation of the family structure through her influence, in turn creating a more believable atmosphere in the film than many of its predecessors. Even with this approach though, the film doesn’t necessarily utilize it above the point of it being simply a superficial rivalry more than anything else, which is somewhat disappointing.

While the seriousness of the film’s subject material is certainly expressed throughout its narrative, Iguchi also injects plenty of moments of bizarre humor within the film as well. And while these moments are often hard to distinguish between being warranted by Iguchi or simply unintentionally funny, they at times intrude upon the somber framework that the film establishes early on and continually strives to follow all the way up to its conclusion. This was also seen in Iguchi’s The Machine Girl as well, where moments of grotesqueness were mirrored with that of dark humor. These comical elements are present within Tomie Unlimited as well, and it’s a move that may discourage some long time viewers of the film series who would prefer for it to remain rather serious in tone. As with previous directors of the series though, one can see the substantial amount of liberties given towards the construction of a Tomie film, with Tomie Unlimited being no different in that regard. Still, one could easily see the opportunity offered by the film’s view of Tomie and her ability to seduce and ultimately destroy a family as somewhat of an imaginative approach for the series—one that could’ve easily made the film one of the best in the series if followed through to a greater extent.

Perhaps one of the best features of the film though is the inclusion of actresses Moe Arai and Miu Nakamura, both who do a fantastic job compared to the rather unflattering acting viewed within previous films. With Nakamura portraying the dominating presence of the beautiful but deathly Tomie, she gives a frightening rendition of the title character and reinvigorates the notion of Tomie as an entity willing to control those that surround her through psychological perseverance. Arai also gives an equally fine performance as the guilt-ridden Tsukiko. Effectively conveying the conflicted guilt that arises from the death of her character’s sister, Arai nicely delivers a great emotional range that makes us care for her rather inevitable predicament with Tomie. AKB48 member Aiko Ota is also in the film as Tsukiko’s caring friend Kae, but she isn’t very convincing or compelling as a character to begin with. Her acting is rather emotionless for the most part, but given that this is her first major film role—as in her fellow teammate Maeda in Moshidora (2011)—she has much time to improve upon her skills if she decides to continue acting. Tomie Unlimited is certainly one of the better ensembles gathered for a Tomie film though, which is saying a lot given the rather crude production and cast values throughout the series. Both main actresses are effective in their portrayal of two sisters torn apart by resentment and envy, which provides some substance to a series otherwise devoid of it.

As with any Tomie film though, suspension of belief is certainly applicable towards fully enjoying its eccentricities. This philosophy is mostly needed during the film’s concluding moments in which dream states and reality becoming increasingly blurred across a spectrum that is as silly as it is emotional. It’s surprising to see Iguchi explore the sentimental aspects of the Tomie series—a premise lastly seen within Tomie: Replay (2000) and Tomie: Forbidden Fruit (2002)—so it’s nice to see a return towards approaching the series as something more than simply the horror aspects the Tomie. The film does indeed deliver the aspects of horror as well though, which is where Iguchi shines as a director greatly willing to showcase the absolute bizarre alongside that of unusual comedy. While the film isn’t the best in capturing the essence of the Tomie series, it does a great job in enlivening it once again. If future films are made within the franchise, then Tomie Unlimited would provide a great, modern template for the film series as an example of a thoughtful, strange, and grotesque look into why Tomie remains such a popular series today as it did over a decade ago. Nevertheless, Tomie Unlimited remains a satisfying addition to the Tomie universe.

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Author: Miguel Douglas

As an avid viewer of both Japanese animation and cinema for more than a decade now, Miguel is primarily concerned with establishing a critical look into both mediums as legitimate forms of artistic, cultural, and societal understanding. Never one to simply look at a film or series based solely on superficiality, Miguel has dedicated himself towards bringing awareness to Asian entertainment and its various facets.

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