Tomie: Unlimited Review
The Machine Girl and RoboGeisha were little more than poster concepts taken to the Nth degree, a sort of film-student-like playful experimentation with the recipe of cheap effects, bold imagery, tasteless gore and two dimensional narratives. Possibly thought up over a late lunch on a Friday afternoon and with the kind of mindless simplicity that, were they TV shows, would have an ITV 2 scheduler yelling “prime time”. And lo and behold the end products, bloody messes in both literal and figurative senses, became cult hits. The maestros of the lo-fi Japanese splatter genre know their market, and Iguchi shows no signs of turning his back on the formula that brought him to prominence.
So he's tasked with helming the latest in the series of Tomie films, a franchise that's spawned, prior to Unlimited, eight entries. Some have been better than others, with Takashi Shimizu (creator/writer/director of Ju-on: The Grudge) directing one, the trend has been direct to video releases of limited running time. The Saw films showed you can't put a franchise production on a conveyor belt at speed without following the law of diminishing returns, and in a similar vein the Tomie series generally follow the same storyline, if given a slight twist each time. It's a horror, based on Junji Ito's manga of the same name, originally serialized from the late eighties onwards, depicting the titular character as a beguiling beacon for all obsessive and negative emotions; lust, desire, jealousy – all swirl around her. She is a young, beautiful girl who, knowing or otherwise, appears to act as a conduit for tragedy, a modern day siren entrancing not with her song but her bewitching looks and playful mannerisms.
Yet things calm down for a short while – alright we're only ten minutes in at this point and the steady waters afterwards may only last a little more, but there are indications that this could be a genuine J-horror at points. Tsukiko and her parents are celebrating what would have been their loved one's eighteenth birthday when there's a call at the door. Tsukiko goes to answer it and, shocked at the voice she hears calls for her parents; it's Tomie. It's quite a bold story progression, no messing about with chance sightings or intrigue, just a dead girl reappearing to her family. The girls' parents are delighted to have their daughter back, but Tsukiko is less thrilled, sensing something is wrong, well you would wouldn't you?
Things get weird pretty fast, but in terms of Iguchi weirdness it's quite restrained. Tomie shows her temper, indicates a strange quasi-incestuous draw towards Tsukiko and soon has her father losing his marbles. It should be said that Unlimited assumes a fair degree of prior knowledge and remains intrinsically linked to the Japanese obsession with girl's hair. The girl with the longest jet black hair is usually assumed to be the most beguiling, even if you consider the actress assuming the part to be no oil painting. If you want to be shocked by the madness that ensues then I suggest you stop reading, because if you're not aware of the rules of the narrative it could give you a bit more bang for your buck in horror surprise terms.
Gone yet? Good. The point of Tomie is that she's effectively both cursed and curser, she's bound by fate to die a violent death and unless you burn the body she'll keep coming back. A lopped off body part can sprout an entirely new Tomie, meaning that at any point there can be multiple versions milling about causing havoc. Iguchi manages to get a bit of mileage out of this blueprint without deviating from it, the area that swerves most from the formula is that of humour in the final act. The budding heads that emerge from various possessed persons' shoulders, akin to How To Get Ahead in Advertising, are ridiculous in all the right ways, their pervy tongues sticking out in lustful fervour. It even repeats the gag of confusion over which head to remove. Not only are they hard to take seriously, but the high-pitched voice that emerges as a man clearly works the mouth from over the actresses shoulder actually made me laugh out loud. It's odd enough anyway, but if you've ever seen Harry Hill's act with the puppet Stouffer then I’d wager you may find a further level of hilarity.
Once the headless corpse (well, half headless anyway) starts running after Tsukiko, banging into doors and screaming like a Scooby Doo spectre there's no turning back, it's like a bizarre cross between Evil Dead and The Mighty Boosh's darker moments. Nothing really makes sense, meaningful narrative is replaced by cartoon villainry; long cackles, femme fatale hair flicks, staring and creepy smiles. There's an attempt to tie things together at the end, but by this time there's been too many Nightmare on Elm St style dreams within dreams to make anything seem vaguely pertaining to reality and you'll have long passed the point of expressing incredulity. But then who watches a Noboru Iguchi film for sanity?