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Tomie: Unlimited
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by Jay Seaver

"Tomie will not die."
3 stars

SCREENED AT THE 2011 FANTASIA INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL: I had an interesting discussion with between "Tomie: Unlimited" and the film which followed it on the festival schedule. I was somewhat disappointed in the movie, and laid out where it felt like it failed to come together, to be told that, actually, all the stuff I was faulting it on was irrelevant: I was trying to apply high-minded metaphor and meaning to something that really had no ambitions beyond freaking the audience out with trippy grotesqueries.

Now, neither of us is wrong - just because original manga artist Junji Ito, co-writer Jun Tsugita, and co-writer/director Noboru Iguchi didn't necessarily see Tomie as a literal take on how the dead can force their way into the lives of the living doesn't mean I shouldn't think along those lines when I see it, and the guy I was talking to certainly enjoyed it for what it is. Stories are a collaboration between teller and listener, in practice at least. The trouble with Tomie: Unlimited is that there's a void in it that demands an explanation. If one is familiar with the source material and the history of the franchise, that will go in. The rest of us will see the strange things going on and maybe try to fill the hole in a way that doesn't quite work.

What is there? Well, we start with Tsukiko (Moe Arai), a high-school student who loves photography but is constantly outshone by her beautiful older sister Tomie (Miu Nakamura). One day, when Tomie cajoles Tsukiko into taking pictures of her to impress her boyfriend Toshio (Kensuke Owada), the head of the judo club whom Tsukiko also has a crush on, Tomie is killed in a freak accident. Cut to a few months later, when the Tsukiko and her parents (Maiko Kawakami & Kouichi Ohori) are having a thoroughly morbid dinner on what would have been Tomie's eighteenth birthday, when there's a knock on the door. It's Tomie, somehow seeming none the worse for the wear. Only Tuskiko seems to think there's something strange about this, especially since there's something about Tomie this time around that inspires even more extreme passions, both affectionate and violent.

The world of Tomie is a fertile one - created by Junji Ito in the late 1980s, the manga serial received its first film adaptation in 1999, and this is at least the ninth Tomie movie to be made since then (an impressive rate of cranking out sequels even before considering that Unlimited is the second time that the series has been restarted in that time). This iteration is said to be one of the more faithful adaptations of the original comics, and if so, it's easy to see why the franchise has been so popular - there's something both monstrous and tragic about Tomie when viewed as a character and even more horrifying when she is viewed less as a human or even a monster but as a cancer or even an idea (if Takashi Shimizu's Ju-on movies aren't directly inspired by this, they certainly share a common ancestor). There's a chance for some imaginatively gross visuals, and on some unconscious level, the idea of there being this girl you both love and hate and who keeps coming back in force no matter how hard you try to purge her from your life is going to resonate to a lot of people.

Unfortunately, Noboru Iguchi doesn't seem to be the guy to do a great Tomie movie. On the surface, he certainly seems like a solid enough choice - his resumé is chock full of movies about schoolgirls getting mutilated, and he works well with the crew that you want doing special effects on a project such as this - and he does handle the surface material well enough; the gross-out material is gross (though he does appear to be hindered by a fairly low budget), and he can spring a surprise on the audience fairly well. Iguchi has a hard time pulling things together, though; he hints at various ideas parallels between Tsukiko's regular life and the supernatural events, but doesn't fallow through, and there's no rhyme nor reason to whether or not people find Tomie's reappearances strange, for instance. The movie also never establishes Tomie's regenerative abilities in a way that the audience knows to be scared when they might kick in, and doesn't create the atmosphere where not knowing is just as scary.

The cast is a mixed bag, too. Moe Arai is actually a fine lead, not just making Tsukiko incredulous at the nightmare that her life is becoming but also a real teen with realistic issues without her being overwhelmed by them. Miu Nakamura isn't quite so multifaceted - we never get a sense of what Tomie's thinking - but she fits the role well, giving off the queen bee vibe that draws people in even if they know how awful she is. Kensuke Owada and Aika Ota are passable as the girls' classmates, although Kouichi Ohori and Maiko Kawakami are fairly one-note as the parents.

Maybe familiarity with the manga would help "Tomie: Unlimited", or at least keep me from trying to see things that aren't there. That's a lot to ask outside of its native land, though, and even those who know Tomie might have wish Iguchi was made his approach to the material a little more clear.

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originally posted: 08/20/11 12:18:24
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2011 Fantasia International Film Festival For more in the Fantasia International Film Festival 2011 series, click here.

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Directed by
  Noboru Iguchi

Written by
  Jun Tsugita
  Noboru Iguchi

  Moe Arai
  Miu Nakamura
  Maiko Kawakami
  Kensuke Owada
  Koichi Obori

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