Friday, July 1, 2016

Tomie: Unlimited

Tomie Unlimited (2011) aka Tomie: Anrimiteddo
Dir Noboru Iguchi
Written by Jun Tsugita, Noboru Iguchi (based on the series by Junji Ito)
Starring Moe Arai, Miu Nakamura

So. In case you missed our last-run in with Tomie in TOMIE: REBIRTH, here’s what you need to know about Tomie:

1: Tomie is an unexplained supernatural being who looks like a pretty teenage girl (with a distinctive freckle under her left eye), and her thing is, she makes people get obsessed with her until they freak out and murder her, but then she regenerates and comes back to torment them in weird, obscure ways, for no discernable reason. Sometimes this causes her to duplicate herself.

2: The films are based on the Manga series by Junji Ito, which pretty much everyone agrees is way better. Most of the movies riff off of several different stories, but are inexplicably uneventful compared to the source material.

3: There have been eight Tomie movies and one TV anthology, starting in 1999.

4: There is no continuity whatsoever between any of the films, and they all feature entirely different casts and almost entirely different creative teams (only one person --Ataru Oikawa-- has ever directed more than one).

5: Nobody seems to really like any of them very much.

6: But for some reason Japan absolutely cannot stop itself from making more.

Noted horror nihilist Dan P took the plunge last year and watched all of them, in a feat of herculean masochism which his increasingly hopeless reports from the front line did not particularly tempt me to repeat. But even so, any series as ubiquitous as this one clearly is onto something, and I couldn’t just ignore it. Particularly since at least it had the discipline to avoid the inescapable-during-the-00’s American obsession with PG-13 J-horror remakes. And lest you think it was just too weird to tempt Hollywood, please remember that fucking PULSE got an American remake.

So what the heck, I wanted to give Tomie one more chance to show me her charms. This time around, I watched the most recent entry in the series, 2011’s TOMIE: UNLIMITED. Which turns out to be something of an outlier. For starters, it was the first (and so far, only) Tomie movie since 2007’s TOMIE VS TOMIE; prior to 2007, they’d been rolling out at almost a film a year (and, in 2005, two films per year!) making the four-year gap between film the longest in the series’ history up to that time. I don’t know what happened during those four years, but it seems like maybe Tomie was just gathering her strengths, because this time around, she comes out swinging. I gather that the prevailing complaint about the previous Tomie movies is that they’re slow and uneventful, with little of the wild-eyed bizarrity that the comics boast. Well, not so here. Whatever UNLIMITED’s problems might be, it definitely does not lack whammy.

Part of that is probably the director, noted Japanese pornograuteur Noboru Iguchi, prolific director of “Adult videos” and occasional director of… well, “mainstream” movies might be pushing the definition a little far when you consider things like CAT-EYED BOY, ROBOGEISHA, and ZOMBIE ASS, not to mention his baffling, lowbrow apocalyptic F is for Fart segment in THE ABC’s OF DEATH. But at least, less specifically pornographic movies, that have actors and budgets and stuff. The only full film of his that I’ve seen is ROBOGEISHA, which is every bit the appreciably way-over-the-line schlockfest that you imagine it is, full of stupid gimmicks and ridiculousness alternately --and sometimes simultaneously-- groan-inducing and giddy fun. It’s a film which would probably actually be a little better if it didn’t seem to be trying so hard, but since Tomie films usually have the opposite problem, this seems like a pretty good match of director and material.

You feel the change in tone right away. Right off the bat, UNLIMITED has a crisper, more energetic feel than staid, deliberate TOMIE: REBIRTH had. It gets to the point (such as it is) quickly, and never lets up after that. First weird thing you may notice? Tomie has settled down and got herself a family. By which I mean, Tomie (Miu Nakamura, TEKETEKE 2 this go round) is inexplicably the older sister of Tsukiko (Moe Arai, TWILIGHT SYNDROME: DEADLY THEME PARK aka DEAD GO ROUND), and seemingly part of a nice, normal nuclear family. What the fuck we are supposed to make of this setup, I honestly do not know, but just go with it, because in no time at all, Tomie is impaled in a random accident (not murdered, an unusual move for her). Tomie being Tomie, of course, she’s quickly back on her family’s doorstep, and using their shock and gratitude at her miraculous return to, I dunno, weird them out and do freaky stuff.

Actually that’s being a little unfair. The star of TOMIE: UNLIMITED is the weirdness, which we’ll get to soon enough. But I actually sort of like the premise here, which finds younger sister Tsukiko --already in pretty, popular Tomie’s shadow even before the miraculous return-- increasingly isolated and lonely, as her parents favor their returned daughter and a world of superficial high schoolers flock to Tomie’s irresistible charm. Several of the Tomie films deal with other women who are intimidated by Tomie’s power over men (and women), and TOMIE: FORBIDDEN FRUIT even deals with the same uncomfortable dynamics of our heroine’s father becoming obsessed with Tomie. But despite its manic tone, UNLIMITED finds an unexpected sense of melancholy in its lonely, rejected protagonist. It doesn’t get too lugubrious about it, but it’s a very helpful anchor to keep the zany body horror antics from getting so abstract they lose impact. Obviously you’re here for the severed heads smothering people with their eight-foot long tongues, and I respect you for that. But having an underpinning of genuinely earnest emotion augments those things, and makes them feel a little bit more impactful, while still not diminishing the heady enjoyment of a bunch of batshit Japanese craziness. Good job, director of ROBOGEISHA.

Here are some things that you will see in TOMIE: UNLIMITED. (Spoilers, arguably, if you consider revealing specific gore scenes without any plot context spoilers, and in this case I think it’s safe to assume that you should): Tomie gets a freak growth on her neck with its own tongue, then she gets her head cut off, and the growth takes over, powering the headless body along with the kind of Japanese industriousness you would never get in the ‘States. Tomie’s body gets chopped up into rice, and all the tiny pieces grow back as tiny Tomie heads with long tongues sitting in a lunchbox, and they braid their tongues together to mouth-rape a schoolgirl. A Tomie head regenerates into a pillbug-shaped larva. Dozens of severed Tomie heads work in unison to form a many-segmented ambulatory centipede. A giant Tomie head sits in a room and makes you feel bad about yourself. The plot itself is pretty nonsensical, as you can probably gather from all the crazy stuff I just described… but then again, would you want a plot with all that to make sense? This is, finally, a Tomie film which delivers the goods. There’s almost always something weird and gory happening, and if you’re a little hazy on exactly who the particular person getting accosted by a malevolent severed head is at this exact moment… well, if you find that too great a price to pay, maybe Japanese horror movie aren’t for you.

Case in point: the film’s ending (and, so far, the ending to the series!) offers a somewhat apocalyptic scenario, hinted at but never before so enthusiastically indulged. Tomie replicates herself through her weird life cycle of obsession and murder, and can also “infect” other people and turn them into Tomies. Two Tomies went head to head in TOMIE VS TOMIE, but just how many are actually out there, anyway? UNLIMITED answers the question in its title. The ending -- where our lonely protagonist finally gives in to Tomie, only to find the world filled with other Tomies -- may be oddly poignant in a surreal sort of way. In a world of nothing but Tomies, is it even worth trying to hold onto your own identity? Like many Japanese horror movies, this may plumb some of the apparently boundless depths of Japanese horror about the twin terrors of conformity and individualism. Hardly the first to do it, but this makes for an unusually direct and fatalistic metaphor, while never skimping on the weird or pushing the point too hard. The CG used to realize this kind of sublime strangeness is not the best, but weird ideas take you a long way. And that’s something this movie’s got in spades.

Play it Again, Samhain

None apparent
Yes, of several of Junji Ito's stories
Yes, 8th theatrical Tomie film
You'd think so, but I don't remember and there's no "female nudity" listed in the IMDB keywords, and they're usually pretty thorough about that.
Close enough
Lots -- severed heads aplenty, "death by impalement," etc
I guess Tomie counts
...Gonna say yes? Tomie can "infect" you.
Oh yeah

Always save your good shit for the 8th sequel
Being limited didn't seem like a huge problem before, but I guess "unlimited" is fine, because this one really does go off the rocker.

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