Directed by: Ataru Oikawa
Written by: Junji Ito (Comic)
Ataru Oikawa (Screenplay)
Starring: Miho Kanno, Mami Nakamura, Yoriko Douguchi, Tomorowo Taguchi, and Kouta Kusano

Sometimes it’s great to go into a film with no expectations. You’ve heard no spoilers, read no reviews. Hell, you may not have even heard the name of the movie before. Maybe all the copies of the latest blockbuster are gone. Maybe the cover just looks freaky—like something that might scare you to death. Whatever the reason, you take it home, pop it into your DVD player, and…whoa! You find a creepy little gem that makes you afraid to turn out the lights.

That’s the movie Tomie could have been.

The film starts off well. A boy walks down the sidewalk with a plastic shopping bag in his hand. Someone bumps into him and he quickly goes off to the side to make certain whatever he is carrying is unharmed. There is now a rip in the plastic, and we see a closed eye through it. Just as it sinks in that the boy is carrying a severed head, the demonic eye springs open. Cut to the opening credits and, in the background, we hear the strangest music ever produced. It sounds like a nursery rhyme, but it is garbled and played at an odd speed. The music alone sent a chill down my spine, and I said to myself, “This is going to be great!”

Sadly, the remainder of this tale never lived up to the creepy promise of its opening sequence.

Teenager Tomie Kawakami (Miho Kanno) was killed and dismembered as a result of a love affair gone bad. Her classmate, Tsukiko Izumisawa (Mami Nakamura), remembers nothing from that night, but she finds she has nightmares whenever she tries to sleep. Her doctor is trying to help her come to grips with these repressed memories and move on with her life. When people Tsukiko knows start turning up dead, however, it is obvious there is more at work here than bad dreams. Tomie has returned from the dead and come back for revenge.

Miho Kanno’s performance as Tomie is riveting. Her voice alternates between breathy seductress and giggling demon child. Her odd-shaped face is like that of a mask—a doll’s face. When she stares out of the screen, it raises the hairs on your neck. This works well for scenes of torture and menace, but it really makes you wonder why every man she meets falls instantly in love with her. I don’t know about Japanese men, but I normally don’t equate horribly creepy with sexy.

Writer/director Ataru Oikawa keeps things dark and mysterious, but his pacing is far too slow. His characters spend what seems like an eternity talking about horrible things that have happened, but we are shown few actual horrors. And when a police detective tells Izumisawa’s doctor that girls named Tomie Kawakami have appeared throughout history—that each and every time they have been killed and dismembered—the doctor acts as if this is nothing unusual. The tale eventually builds to a climax, and then rapidly spirals out of control—finally crashing with an ending that makes no sense in reality or even within the context of the film.

Tomie is based on a Japanese comic book or Manga, and there have been multiple sequels to this film in Japan. Normally, a sequel is never as good as the original, but it would be easy to take this concept and improve upon it. Miho Kanno’s Tomie could be the Japanese Freddy or Jason—a demon that can not die no matter what you do to try and kill it. If all the films are like this one, however, they should have quite while they were ahead.

2.5 out of 5 stars