Friday, December 18, 2009

REVIEW: Tomie: Replay

富江 Replay (Tomie: Replay)

Released: 2000

Tomijiro Mitsuishi

Mai Hosho

Sayaka Yamaguchi
Yôsuke Kubozuka
Ken'ichi Endô
Makoto Togashi

Running time: 95 min.

Reviewed by Matthew Hardstaff

My favourite "Tomie" manga’s are the one’s that allow Junji Ito to plunge into the depths of madness and insanity. Sure it’s a pleasure to read almost anything by him, but it’s the parts of the "Tomie" mythology that try to reach the same lofty level of insanity and madness that his masterpiece "Uzumaki" reaches that really stand out. Not only on a narrative level, with the interweaving Tomie’s vying for supremacy over all others, the violent lengths that some of the characters take to kill/control Tomie, and the weird and surreal imagery derived from the various incarnations Tomie takes on, but also on a sheer artistic level, when Ito lets his imagination run wild, creating some truly striking imagery. It would make sense that taking one of these more epic tales would in turn produce a more devious and twisted "Tomie" film.

"Tomie: Replay" is just that film. All things considered, its really the first sequel to the original Tomie film, and unlike the original, its based more or less on one straight up tale as opposed to an amalgamation of several. The film opens with a young girl undergoing an operation. Her stomach is horribly distended, and whatever is causing this distention is slowly crushing her organs. A team of crack surgeon’s rush to remove the object, only to find that insider her bloated belly is the head of Tomie! From that point on its balls out insanity! Well, not really, but it really should be. Like the first film, it’s more a slow burn kind of horror film. But where as the first film tried to keep itself separate from the usual J-horror film tropes, the sequel attempts to play with them, giving us more graphic violence and more attempted chills, even delving into ghost story territory that didn’t really exist in the manga. Yumi Morita (Sakaya Yamaguchi) finds her fathers diary after he goes missing. He was the head doctor at the clinic responsible for the surgery on the young girl, and all the doctors involved with the surgery, save one, have gone missing. Yumi is keen to investigate. It leads her to Dr. Tachibana (Kenichi Endo) and to the truth about Tomie and the vat in the hospitals basement in which she was grown.

This film leaves me somewhat torn. It’s still a watered down version of Junji Ito, and doesn’t reach the level of brilliance it should, but there are parts, small, tiny parts, that come close. Tomie is still not the demonic she-beast that she should be, but from the "Tomie" films I’ve seen, this is the best depiction thus far (I’ve yet to see "Rebirth" and "Forbidden Fruit", which I know are considered the best, so this judgment is far from complete). It does trade in some of the ambiguity and surreal imagery from the first film for more straight up shocks, but it does still contain some great stuff. When "Tomie: Replay" works, it really works. It just seems like director Tomijiro Mitsuishi held back during the making of the film and was afraid to turn the crazy meter up to 11. He has it set at 7 for most of the film. Will a "Tomie" film ever really capture Ito’s true intention? I really hope so. This film is still required viewing if you’re really into Junji Ito, the "Tomie" mythology or J-horror in general, but as a stand alone film, not so much. Although I will give it props for not spoon feeding the audience on what Tomie is or what she is capable of. That ambiguity is still there, and keeps the film somewhat fresh.

If you like films featuring small children impregnated with disembodied heads of cute Japanese girls, you’ll probably really dig this film.

Read more by Matthew Hardstaff at his blog.

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