DVD Tomie: Unlimited
Like many of the weirdest and most provocative South East Asian films of recent years, Tomie began life in the form of manga. Tomie: Unlimited is the ninth instalment in this franchise and is directed by the prolific Noboru Iguchi, director of such titles as The Machine Girl, Mutant Girl Squad and Zombie Ass: Toilet Of The Dead. Highbrow horror wouldn’t appear to be on the cards, but what to expect from such a visionary director and source material that by now must have said all it can?
Tsukiko is out with her friend, taking pictures of an apparently derelict building, when they meet up with her sister, Tomie. Tomie is beautiful and confident and in a relationship with Toshio, who Tsukiko has a crush on. Within seconds, a falling rod from the derelict building falls and impales Tomie in front of her horrified sister.
Tsukiko and her parents hold a birthday party for the deceased Tomie a year later. When Tsukiko blows out the candles, there is a knock at the door. Impossibly, Tomie has returned.
Tomie then sets about destroying Tsukiko’s life through her parents and friends. But far more sinister things are happening around her, and Tsukiko must work out who Tomie really is and what she wants before it is too late…
Tomie opens with some promise. The freak and quite funny accident that kills Tomie in the first place looks a little cheap, but promises fun. The film that follows is not what you would expect. It actually plays out a little like The Grudge meets Visitor Q, as the family, broken by the loss of their daughter/sister, start to crack on her return. The father licking his daughter’s hair, and stuffing it into his mouth, is something that wouldn’t seem out of place in a Takashi Miike film. What develops from there, though, is a mess of ideas that never quite come together to make an effective horror film. The elements that make up the second act don’t work together as they should in order to create that deep sense of unease, or sick fun, that we have come to expect from this part of the world.
One of the major disappointments with Tomie is the lack of depth, especially in terms of character.
There are some nice ideas on show, but they are not carried off with any real style. Instead, there is an uneasy mix of outlandish and cheap looking CGI, and comedic rubber monster-type effects. Rather than adding a layer of black humour, which would appear to be the intention (that shoulder-tumour-monster can’t be serious, can it?), the combination creates an uneven feel to the horror and makes everything seem somewhat laughable. To cite one example, the sight of a father feeding caviar to a head, which appears to be growing on an offal stalk from the waste bin, might sound freaky and a bit funny on paper, but within the world of Tomie, it doesn’t do anything to scare us, or drive the plot, or build suspense, or further our understanding of what is going on… In fact, once the final reveal is shown to us, these scenes become glaring plot holes rather than the kooky asides we get when not watching Tsukiko run around school screaming.
One of the major disappointments with Tomie is the lack of depth, especially in terms of character, as this is something the film relies on in order to deliver the emotional punch intended. The core of the film is the relationship between Tomie and Tsukiko, but this is never explored to its fullest extent. Tsukiko’s insecurities in the face of her mirror image, Tomie, should be at the centre of the film, and a place from where the horror can extend. Sadly, instead of spreading sinister tendrils of menace and grotesquerie, permeating the film around it, this relationship has had some frankly ridiculous ideas tacked onto it. The squealing tumour-monster, six miniature heads in a lunch box, heads appearing from bins, and those awful caterpillar things have very little relevance to this central relationship, and that glaring inconsistency is what, ultimately, undoes Tomie: Unlimited. Nothing fits as it should.
This could, of course, be a good thing. Plenty of films have thrived on making an audience feel uncomfortable, and giving them a puzzle to solve for themselves. There is a puzzle here. One which involves shifts in perspective that have become common throughout South East Asian horror (especially notable in A Tale Of Two Sisters), but the end result, once the pieces have been put into place, is still ghastly to look at, and makes you wonder why you bothered trying to solve it in the first place.
It would be unfair to say Tomie: Unlimited is among the worst Asian horror of recent years, but it is miles from being ranked among the most average. There is nothing here that will give jaded fans of the genre a boost, neither is there anything that will convert newcomers. Recommended only for those who have dedicated themselves to watching every Japanese horror ever made. If that applies to you, then add another star. The rest of us of you should avoid it.
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