The Revision: Tomie

Junji Ito’s Tomie is a collection of connected stories about a beautiful young woman named Tomie who seduces men into violent rages, often ending in their deaths or hers. But Tomie can regenerate so she can cause havoc time and time again, which is what she enjoys doing the most.

It can be argued that Tomie isn’t even really about Tomie — it’s about all the people she influences and affects. Tomie is less a character than a force — she’s evil, sure, but that’s just her nature. She can’t help it. She has no morality.

Cover of the Dark Horse edition of Junji Ito's Tomie

Like much of Ito’s work, Tomie is a good example of “well, that escalated quickly.” That’s part of the fun of his comics, though. There’s not a slow burn here. You read his comics and it’s normal and then something super weird happens. There is a lot of body horror and things coming out of nowhere. I personally don’t find his work particularly scary or horrifying — there’s a large sense of fun to his work. Characters’ blasé reactions to weird things happening — like you know, a classmate they cut up into pieces showing back up at school — give it a lighter touch than can be expected. There are some incredibly disturbing images and the general motif of Tomie is uncomfortable — she is killed many times in graphic ways — but Ito’s artwork is so intricate and defined that it’s a pleasure to look at, despite the subject matter.

I get it’s not everyone’s thing, but Ito’s work is fun. It’s just so over the top and bizarre that I always enjoy seeing where it goes.

If he’s saying anything, it’s the cycle of toxic masculinity that ends with “if we can’t have Tomie, no one can” but also, she doesn’t die, so it just constantly repeats. But I don’t think Junji Ito was really saying anything particularly deep. He just wrote and draw some things that looked cool.

It would make sense why Ito’s Tomie would be the one of his works to receive the largest number of adaptations — 11 in total so far. After all, compared to Uzumaki (which there is a live-action adaptation of, of course), Tomie is basically just about a girl. An evil, immortal girl, but a girl nonetheless. There isn’t a need to do some weird spiral effects or giant fish-bug monsters.

The first Tomie (1998, directed by Ataru Oikawa) movie isn’t a direct adaptation of any of the Tomie stories, but it does pull from “Kiss” and “Photograph.” It primarily focuses on — as much as it focuses on anything — a young woman named Tsukiko (Mami Nakamura), who has no memories surrounding an “accident” she had a few years prior. The police are also investigating the death (or deaths, rather), of a young woman named Tomie Kawakami (Miho Kanno).

This movie may sound like it has a plot, but it’s barely there. I have no idea how you take a concept like Tomie — an evil, immortal demon girl who seduces and kills men and is constantly killed herself — and make it this boring. I like horror movies that are strong on mood, but this is barely even a mood. It’s also barely even a horror movie. I kept wishing for a jump scare — something I typically hate — just so something would feel like it was happening.

The movie’s biggest flaw is how long it holds us back from seeing Tomie herself. It’s not until toward the end of the movie we fully see her face, although we’ve seen the back of her head and body many times. Kanno brings a dementedly playful menace to Tomie, but she’s not enough of a presence throughout the movie to truly feel scary. I understand why the filmmakers did this, but it ended up not working out.

It would maybe help if Tsukiko didn’t feel like such a blank character. Her personality is “I have amnesia” and “I like photography” and that’s about it. There are a few friends and a boyfriend in this, too, but they’re likewise not that notable. And given that the bulk of the movie is essentially about some young adults hanging out and living their lives, the fact that none of these people are memorable makes this movie a slog.

Once Tomie does show up to menace Tsukiko, there are some interesting moments, but it’s a bit too little, too late. Not enough time — or any, really — was spent on the previous friendship between Tomie and Tsukiko and their subsequent betrayals of each other for their conflict to feel satisfying. I like Kanno and Nakamura together and I wish they shared more screen time. Like most of the choices this movie makes, I wanted more than I got.

I have no idea if any of the other Tomie movies are good and I may get to some of the other ones, but I’ve been told they’re mostly more of the same. There is another TV show (possibly?) in the works (it was announced for Quibi but it may not be dead). Like Tomie herself, this is a property that keeps coming back. Maybe someone will figure out what to actually do with it.