“She’s a monster!”
Junji Ito is a master of horror manga – a mild-mannered creator of unsettling images and stories that occasionally freak you right the hell out. I haven’t read everything by the man, but I hope to some day. I’ve got big hardcover collections of Uzimaki and Gyo downstairs, but haven’t yet managed to pick up a collection of Tomie, his first major series.
There have been a number of film adaptations of Ito’s work – I really want to see the live action Uzumaki movie some day – but Tomie has received the most by far. At this date there are something like nine Tomie movies. All of them feature the title character, who is a creature who possesses the ability to seduce men (and occasionally women) and drive them into fits of jealous rage, causing them to brutally murder her.
And then she comes back and the cycle starts again.
There’s more to it than that – a lot more, including cannibalism, regeneration, infection and duplication – but that’s the basic gist. Most of the Tomie films adapt one or more chapters of the original manga although a couple – including the one I watched last night – are original stories springboarding from the ideas presented in the original work.
Full disclosure – I’ve seen none of the previous Tomie movies. In fact, I think the only Ito adaptation I’ve seen is part of the Gyo anime – because I love me some giant zombie shark with mechanical legs. Part of this is access – I just don’t see the films on streaming often – and part of is because by reputation the Tomie films can be a little… boring. Repetitive. I’m sure there are some that stand out – I’ve heard Rebirth, by Takashi Shimizu the director of Ju-On, is good – but I can imagine that once you’re more than three or four films into a series it’s hard to avoid repeating things.
Streaming on Amazon – Tomie Unlimited is also available on TubiTV. I didn’t see any other Tome films available. Supposedly in HD, but it’s not the kind of film you’d notice that very much.
Tomie Unlimited is directed by Noboru Iguchi, who is probably primarily known for gory films like Machine Girl and RoboGeisha. (Also the fecal undead comedy Zombie Ass.) I mention this so you have some idea of what we’re in for.
Tsukiko is a young schoolgirl who likes photography and has a crush on a member of the school Judo club, Toshio. She also has an older sister named Tomie who flirts with Toshio and tells Tsukiko that she knows she’s jealous. There are meaningful closeups and syrupy music. And then a large crosspiece of steel falls off a building and impales Tomie.
Well. Guess the movie’s over.
Except that a year to the day since Tomei’s death – on her birthday no less – Tomie shows back up at her house. Tsukiko isn’t exactly sure what’s going on, but her parents are overjoyed and willing to do pretty much anything their beautiful girl says, now that she’s back from the dead. This includes the dad whipping the crap out of Tsukiko for some imagined slight to Tomie.
Tsukiko is right to be suspicious, though, and it’s not long until Tomie shows her the scar from where she was pierced by the steel. It quickly evolves into a bizarre tumor with a long tongue and before you know it Tsukiko is screaming bloody ‘bakemono.’ Tomie doesn’t like being called a monster, however, and tries to leave. This sets off her father who goes nuts and kills Tomie with a knife to stop her from leaving. The mother and father spend the evening cutting up Tomie’s body into pieces small enough to put in the trash, but mom isn’t too tired to make a box lunch for Tsukiko to take to school.
If you’re thinking “WTF” at this point, you’re not alone. It just gets more bizarre, though.
At school a girl who looks exactly like Tomie joins Tsukiku’s class. It’s not long before she’s up to the usual Tomie tricks, seducing anyone who looks at her – including Toshio and the whole Judo club. Meanwhile, a piece of the original Tomie that somhow ended up in Tsukiku’s lunch has transformed into a pack of miniature Tomie heads. Tsukiko throws the whole package in the trash, but her unfortunate friend Yoshi finds it and the heads all jam their miniature tongues down her throat at the same time.
There are a lot of bizarre images in this film. The head of Tomie rising up out of a trash can on spindly pieces of gore, exhorting her father to kill his wife so she can have a new body. Yoshie’s decapitated body running around with a Tomie tumor at the neck stump, laughing and lashing its tongue out. Toshio butchering Tomie in a gym, only to have her reform out of blood so they can make out. Tomie centipedes made out of multiple copies of her face and her long, black hair.
I don’t know about the other Tomie films, but Unlimited isn’t dull!
Unfortunately for poor Tsukiko, she’s overmatched. Tomie, it turns out, can infect people – becoming them – or them becoming more of her. And she wants Tsukiko. Hell, she wants EVERYONE. There’s a scene near the end where Tsukiko is walking through town and every woman she passes by has Tomie’s signature mole under their left eye. Tomie is like The Thing, except in Japanese schoolgirl form. It’s the apocalypse by kogal.
The Bottom Line
Tomie Unlimited definitely manages to evoke some of the themes of body horror and social isolation that pepper Junji Ito’s work. It’s more interested in grossing you out and making you feel awkward than it is in really scaring you, however. (Though dad eating Tomie’s hair does both.) It’s not a great film, maybe not even a good film, but it’s entertaining and never boring.