Friday, March 20, 2009
REVIEW: Tomie: The Beginning
富江 BEGINNING (Tomie BEGINNING)
Running time: 74 min.
Reviewed by Matthew Hardstaff
So pretend your name’s Ataru Oikawa, and after releasing a big screen adaptation of Junji Ito’s "Tomie", which is successful enough to spawn a series of sequels, you follow the film up with a number of mediocre films. You have a deep fascination with young, cute girls who inevitably have bad things happen to them. You seem to be trapped in the video realm, forced from the lofty ambitions you had of making feature films like "Tomie", to making low budget DV films. Sure, "Tokyo Psycho" wasn’t bad, but you seemed to have hit your peek with "Tomie", and have fallen so far. So how do you try to pull yourself out of this J-horror well that seems to swallow your soul? Well, you subscribe to the George Lucas School of filmmaking, and go back to what worked for you, and see if it works again! And again! And again!
"Tomie: Beginning" is essentially a prequel to the ever growing number of Tomie films. But don’t let the title fool you. It’s not about the beginning of Tomie, and it doesn’t go into detail with explanations as to what she really is, but instead it’s an adaptation of the very first Tomie manga, published way back in February 1987. It follows Reiko Matsuhara (Asami Imajuku, from Toshiaki Toyoda’s "9 Souls") as she befriends the new girl in her class, Kawakami Tomie. Of course the class quickly descends into madness, as all the males of the class, including their teacher Takagi, fall into an obsessive state of love, fighting off each other for even a glance from Tomie. The females, who at first become jealous of the attention she garners from the males, try to fight back, but Tomie uses her demonic charms to render them powerless. But just as Tomie has the entire class under her spell, the obsession turns into madness, and the students lose control, slicing Tomie again and again, only to watch her rise once more.
"Tomie" was a good, solid horror film. It was made with the co-operation of Junji Ito, and while it veers from the manga in terms of story, the giallo-esque atmosphere it creates is creepy, and at time when "Ringu" knock-offs were flying off the shelves, quite original. "Tomie: Beginning" doesn’t seem to carry that same sense of unease the first film captured so well. Instead of creating a film that’s more an inspiration of the manga, taking bits and pieces from several issues, Beginning is pretty much a straight up adaptation of the first issue. Sure its told in flashbacks, trying hard to create a sense of mystery about what happened to the class, and sure Rio Matsumoto, who would eventually wind up in Takashi Miike’s "God’s Puzzle", is a great incarnation of Tomie, capturing the vile delight she embodies, but the film doesn’t rise out of the DV mediocrity that Ataru Oikawa has become a prisoner of. I’m sure it was Ataru’s intention to make the film more a black comedy than a horror film, so that we can all reveal in the same delight that Tomie does, but it really doesn’t work, especially when compared to the first film. He trades the atmosphere, and the grotesque delight of the first film for a mélange of school girl giggles and not so convincing dismemberments. Maybe, due to budgetary constraints, forced to make the film on digital video, he had to make this choice, but either way, it just doesn’t work.
"Beginning" isn’t a bad film, but on its own, it’s probably a waste of time. What makes it worth while is that Ataru manages to instill it with enough back-story that links it to the first film, that it creates an interesting addition to the mythology. It even has one linking character, Yamamoto, the guy with the eye patch from the first film who carries Tomie around in a little box (and played by the same actor Kenji Mizuhashi). But beyond that, if you haven’t seen the first film, or really didn’t like the first film, then you should probably pass on this one.
Read more by Matthew Hardstaff at his blog.