Directed by Shimizu Takashi, Japan, 2001, 101 min. starring Miki Sakai, Satoshi Tsumabuki, Kumiko Endou, Masaya Kikawada, Shûgo Oshinari, Yutaka Nakajima, Taro Suwa and Mia Murano.
This movie, which is chronologically the third of a sorry series of five (Tomie, Tomie: Re-play, Tomie: Re-birth, Tomie: Another Face and – hopefully - the very last episode – Tomie: Final Chapter aka Tomie: Forbidden Fruit), is, in my opinion, far and away the best of what could be generously called a mixed bunch. Admittedly, that doesn't really say much. But the very fact that this movie was directed by Takashi Shimizu, he of Ju-on saga fame, would probably give you enough of a clue that this particular Tomie outing is probably going to be a marginal cut above the rest. And generally, this film doesn't disappoint on that front.
Tomie: Re-birth boasts, in no special order of importance, a good use of location; pretty cinematography; a really inspired portrayal of Tomie Kawakami by Miki Sakai, who does an incredible job of finally capturing the true essence of Junji Ito's vision of the girl who never dies; an intricate and exquisitely structured storyline; and great choices of juxtaposition and symbology, not to mention attention to detail - when the three main male characters in the movie bury Tomie's corpse within the first 5 minutes of the movie, they chuck a Chanel carrier bag, full of designer goodies that she forced one of them to buy for her, on top of her before shovelling the dirt over!
However, there are a few fairly heavy-duty flaws in this movie, which means that the series still lacks an outstanding masterpiece that it so desperately requires. Slow pacing – and I do mean agonisingly slow, even by usual Japanese movie standards, as mind-numbingly draggy as a pissed slug on Mogadon and Jack Daniels - renders the viewing experience immensely frustrating. Indeed, you could nip off to the kitchen and cook your dinner during the insanely meandering middle section of the movie, come back with your plateful of bangers and mash and still be able to follow the plot without too much hassle.
After all, the plot at the heart of the film is intrinsically very simple – men kill Tomie, Tomie comes back, Tomie kills killers - so a lot of the elaboration is just fatuous and long-winded, not to mention unnecessary.
The other major problem, IMHO, is a completely rubbish and disappointing damp squib of an ending, blighted by the fact that if you can't see how the movie is going to close after the first half-hour, you really do need help. It's cleverly constructed inasmuch as it all hinges around one central scene of importance – two boys help their painter friend to bury the corpse of his secret lover, who he has just murdered out of jealous rage and insanity – but after much padding, general windbagging and lots of subplot-hinting-type dialogue which never really goes anywhere, all the loose ends of the movie are neatly tied up by the final scene, and makes you wonder how come it took so long to get to what is inevitably a totally predictable outcome.
That said, and bearing in mind that for all the hard work you're going to put into watching the damn thing (and believe me, some of it really is hard going), there should be at least some kind of reward at the end of it – there are some pretty compelling reasons why you should watch this movie, if, like me, you are a rabid fan of Ito's work and have so far been completely fed-up with the rest of the trite crap which has been produced in the name of this particular manga.
One of the great things about this movie is the acting. With some faces you may well recognise if you've seen the recent movie Battle Royale 2, the central actors all give a really good, professional performance. Masaya Kikawada's performance as an increasingly potty Shunichi is a pretty good one, although it does veer at times across the fine line of insanity and into pantomime dame/Jack-Nicholson-in-The-Shining territory. Miki Sakai is simply the best Tomie I have seen to date, and I'll go into more detail about that later. Shûgo Oshinari pretty much reprises his role in Battle Royale 2 as, well, a scared bloke whose eyes bug out of his head a lot. But a special mention must go to both Satoshi Tsumabuki as the central character, Takumi, who plays his role with a quiet dignity which befits it well, and Kumiko Endo, as Hitomi, whose performance is equally understated and all the better for it.
The greatest of these, though, in my humble opinion, is Miki Sakai. Simply put, she's not a drop-dead-sexy beauty – compared to the other much prettier actresses who have essayed the great lady herself, such as Miho Kanno, Mai Hosho and Runa Nagai, no-one would ever buy for a moment that she could entrance men to kill her from jealousy with just a look. So why is she so absolutely brilliant in this role? Perhaps it's a testament to Takashi's directing, perhaps she's just a completely marvellous actor. Either way, on watching this movie, I was finally reminded of how great and twisted the manga is, and the backstory of the entire series.
Only after seeing this particular actress's performance as Tomie have I been inspired to make parallel with Ito's original concept of a cloning experiment gone hideously wrong. In Sakai's portrayal, it becomes chillingly evident that Tomie is nothing but a destructive and infinite self-reproducing machine, using men as its method and murder as its fuel. It destroys and is destroyed, only to be perfectly remade: in the manga, in infinite numbers which Ito addressed the problem of by stating that each clone wants to be the one and only Tomie and is hellbent on doing away with all the others. However, this isn't made entirely clear in the movies - certainly the backstory, whilst not crucial to the understanding of the plot, is nevertheless enlightening if you're looking for an explanation of why this alien creature behaves in this manner.
In this movie, it is also probably the first time a director has addressed unflinchingly quite how disgusting and utterly repellent the Tomie-creature actually is – how unlike the beautiful girl that it pretends to be. Perhaps that's why Sakai works so well here: she is pretty, but not in a conventional, rather dull way that the other actresses who have played her have been.
In the first movie, there probably wasn't enough budget to really portray this (certainly the plastic tinted contact lenses used to show that Tomie isn't human would suggest this to be the case): in the second, Tomie: Re-play, it's merely hinted at by stating, ooh look, there's a bunch of horrible nerve-endingy fleshy things here, and now I've put them into a tank, they've grown into a rather enticing and naked Mai Hosho ;-) but in this movie, Takashi has both the budget and the visual skill to make his Tomie a revolting, deformed monster that the viewer might actually believe cannot be killed in any real sense.
Much of the discourse in this movie really concerns not human emotionality, neither love nor lust, but power. Tomie is not human: rather, she is a force that simply crushes all opposition. She uses her beauty as power to gain the love and unquestioning obeisance and loyalty of men, but loves no-one - not even herself as she continually invites them to destroy her out of jealousy. However, she gains power also over women: by using secret knowledge about them to shock them, then using it against them, everything she does is in pursuit of absolute power. But why? To produce a perfect clone of herself? In a way, her true aim is immortality,and a self-perpetuating mystery. She has become immortal by reincarnating herself over and over again – to no real end.
In some ways, then, it would be easy to say simply that Tomie is a kind of uber-frau, an ultimate woman, as she has pure power over all others: but you have to bear in mind that she is not even really a woman. Yes, she can reproduce, but only perfect clones of herself. She feels no human emotionality: indeed, in a very clever scene near the beginning of this movie, Takashi shows that clearly, as in one of the illustrating screenshots below, with Tomie as the eye of the storm, calmly sipping a drink in a restaurant while men are literally fistfighting around her vying for her romantic attentions. In this way, her life is actually meaningless in terms of both womanity and humanity, as she can't fall in love, get married, have children or have any kind of stereotypical feminine experience, or in fact any experience of depth or worth, without emotionality.
And more than that: she even uses the frailties and vulnerabilities of humans against them in this movie. In one example in particular, where she burns the back of her hand with her victim's mother's cigarette in order to turn the boy in question against his mother, she has no reaction to the pain - until the object of her attention is there. She doesn't feel pain, either physically or emotionally, and thankfully this movie demonstrates that quite explicitly. Certainly in the first movie, we were being asked to suspend disbelief and somehow feel empathetic towards Tomie: in point of fact, Miho Kanno has a whole great big soppy speech near the end about not being a 'real woman' and how sad and lonely she is.
But Miki Sakai's Tomie doesn't even think in those terms, because she has no emotions other than a kind of relentless jealousy and determination (the jealousy only produced by women 'getting in her way' as she endlessly pursues her victims - for she is never the real victim of the story, but like all masochists, calls the shots 100%) which seems a lot more plausible when you consider where the creature's character is coming from. So we're not even being asked to feel sorry for this monster, which is much more in keeping with the original atmosphere of the manga.
This of course contrasts beautifully with our hero, Takumi, and his own state of extremely heightened emotionality - being utterly distraught as he has to watch the woman he loves, Hitomi, changing into something hideous, her personality changing and the Hitomi he knows being destroyed forever by the vile spirit of the Tomie-monster, in revenge for his actions. It's a clever use of parallel, to emphasise the glaring difference between the creature and its prey.
If you subscribe to the 'cloning experiment gone wrong' theory, as per the manga, Tomie has sacrificed everything that makes life worth living for more plain life-time, which won't have any more meaning for her either, which makes her story unpleasant, if not actually sad. This was a subject touched on but not elaborated on (unfortunately) in the first movie in the series: here, thanks to great direction and Sakai's wonderfully blank performance, it becomes much more apparent as to what the hell Miho Kanno was talking about in the first Tomie movie!
If, however, you prefer to think of her rather as a demon or an evil force, then you have to bear in mind that, whilst it wears a female face and form, it's no more a woman than, say, an inanimate object. It's not even gender-specific: it preys on men to do its bidding, in a thoroughly insectile way, but if it had been graced with a male form and figure, it would be preying on women. I don't think Ito was making necessarily a point that there's anything inherent in the male gender-specific traits that meant his creature should be a beautiful girl: in fact, in an interview he stated quite happily that he just likes drawing beautiful women, and really, who wouldn't?! ;-)
Hideo Kamata (Shûgo Oshinari), an award-winning painter, is doing a portrait of his latest model – a mysterious girl named Tomie Kawakami. (This story is taken pretty much direct from Ito's Tomie manga Vol. 2, from the story entitled The Painter. There are also elements drawn directly from the manga throughout, including a whole sequence lifted straight from the chapter Hair, also from Vol. 2, of which we've included a scan at the bottom of the review.)
However, she doesn't like his painting, and trashes it. So he kills her with a palette knife - because he loves her, because he's hurt by her rejection of his work and adoration, and of course, because that's what she wants. Later that same evening, he enlists the help of two friends, Shunichi Hosoda (Masaya Kikawada) and Takumi Aoyama (Satoshi Tsumabuki) to remove her body from the apartment and take it out to some woods, then help bury her in a shallow grave.
Much later on, Takumi goes back to his flat, and his jealous and angry girlfriend Hitomi (Kumiko Endou) tells him off for being out so late home. It turns out he's been involved with Tomie too, on the side.
Back at Hideo's flat, he smears his ruined portrait of Tomie with some of her blood, which has pooled on his palette - but it's moving oddly - almost as though it's breathing, as if it has life of its own...
Later Takumi has bad dreams about burying Tomie, hearing her voice telling him she loves him - and her eyes look very strange... He is woken from the dream by a phone call from Shunichi, telling him to come out to a restaurant, where Shunichi has arranged to bring hideo, as he's suicidally depressed about having killed his lover. However, after the lights mysteriously fail in the restaurant and equally mysteriously come back on, who should be standing in the doorway but Tomie herself.
Hideo is overjoyed to see her - until she reminds him that he actually murdered her, and that she hasn't come looking for him for romance, but rather for revenge. Hideo disappears into the toilets, rushing past his friends Shunichi and Takumi (who helped bury the mystery girl he killed to cover up for their mate) - and when they see why he had run off so quickly, they rush to find him, but too late – Tomie's revenge against him is complete…
Directly after Hideo's funeral, Shun suggests that he and Taku go and check on the corpse they just buried. Taku refuses, but just as Shun is digging the corpse up, Taku turns up, evidently having changed his mind about finding out the truth. Of course, just as Shun discovers that there is no body down there, who should pop up behind him other than Tomie herself, very much reanimated. And, as Taku heads down to the burial site, he sees Shunichi raise his shovel and beat the newly-revenant Tomie to death (again) in her own gravesite!
Of course, Hitomi is still completely unaware of the circumstances of Hideo's death. Later on that night, when she and Taku are out together, who should turn up yet again but Tomie! Not only does she of course inform Hitomi what's been going on, she also naturally makes a play for him, confirming Hitomi's suspicions,inferring that she and Taku and her are not merely having an affair but are the ones having the serious relationship, partly out of revenge for Taku having hidden and not tried to save her whilst Shun tried to dispatch her again, and - as ever - to try and seduce him into her service. Naturally, Hitomi is none too pleased, and rushes Taku home in a big huff.
Of course, Tomie is not content with trying to ensnare Taku in revenge: she turns up at her erstwhile second-time murderer Shun's house the next morning too. Taku, however, is searching for information that might help him track down who this mysterious girl is. After speaking to Hideo's mother, he has a look at his stored paintings, and finds out more than he bargained for: it seems that Hideo had a crush on Hitomi - all of which can only mean that Tomie has another reason to hate and fear Hitomi even more. And when Tomie hates and fears people, they had better watch out…
Shun, on the other hand, has completely sold out to Tomie. On her insistence, he takes her home with him, whereupon he gets sent on an errand by his mother (played marvellously by Yutaka Nakajima), leaving just the two women together. Mrs Hosoda tells Tomie to back off - it seems that she has a very powerful hold over her son - but Tomie frightens her by telling her all kinds of information which is private and no-one else could know except herself. She thens tops it all off by pushing Mrs Hosoda's cigarette onto her own hand and making it look as though she had done it to her deliberately - of course inviting Shun's wrath and vengeance, as he is now thoroughly under Tomie's evil mesmeric spell.
Could Tomie have found a more powerful way to punish and destroy Shun and Taku all at the same time? How will she get her ultimate vengeance, and will Taku be able to save Hitomi from Tomie's revenge - or indeed himself?
In conclusion, then, Tomie: Re-birth isn't really a horror movie per se. It's not even slightly scary still, although this is the closest the tale has come to being even a fraction as frightening as Ito's books. It's atmospheric enough, amazingly psychologically manipulative and beautifully drawn, but on the other hand, the pace really is outrageously slow, and again, there's no real point to the entire movie. Following so closely to stories which have already appeared in the manga, with precious little in the way of new material, it does strike me as being a bit of a waste of everyone's time.
Still, compared to the other stinkers in the series, Tomie: Re-birth is at least an improvement, and I applaud both Takashi Shimizu and Miki Sakai vigorously for having the intelligence to understand and interpret the nature of the beast more accurately than any other of the films to date have done.
Snowblood Apple Rating for this film:
Entertainment value: 7/10
Chill Factor: 6/10
Laughs: Shûgo Oshinari's popping eyeballs /10
Scary Hairy Mary: 1
Tomie: just won't die, like this goddamn series ;-)
Medal Ranking in the Series: Gold. This still ain't saying all that much, though :-(
Litres of Tomato Ketchup: several fat splats packed full of Tomie's delicious and nutritious DNA
Films in a Similar Style: Tomie, Tomie: Re-play, Tomie: Another Face, Tomie: Final Chapter, Ju-on, Ring, Uzumaki
*** Recommended - the best of a bad bunch ***
Tomie: Re-birth Wallpaper
please note: the actual paper does not have the Snowblood Apple logo on it.
You can download this wallpaper here: [800x600] [1024x768]
Wallpaper credit: Alex Apple, 2004
Snowblood Apple Filmographies
http://www.horrorwatch.com/modules/news/article.php?storyid=583 - great, succinct review of the movie with a full cast list
http://junjiito.trilete.net/?jid=movies&movieid=mtomie3 - review and images at Alexis Glass's magnificent Junji Ito site...
http://www.kfccinema.com/features/articles/junji/junji.html - ... and Alexis' article about Ito at kfccinema.com
http://www.dvdplayerreviews.net/items/B0001DMWPW - despite one slightly disturbing review
which I can only hope is supposed to be ironic ("Tomie one super hot love-love cutie!"), a page of reader reviews for the movie
http://www.fjmovie.com/horror/t8/75.html - indepth details of cast at fjmovie.com
http://www.neoneiga.it/pillole/TomieRebirth.php - review by Giacomo at neo[n]eiga [Italian only]
http://www.sancho-asia.com/article.php3?id_article=271 - Akatomy does the business as ever at Sancho Does Asia [French only]
http://www.dvdtown.com/coverart/tomierebirth/13021/ - hi-res cover art for the movie