June 02, 2006

TOMIE: REBIRTH (2001) from the director of Ju-on, The Grudge

TOMIE: REBIRTH (Japan, 2001)
Region 1 DVD (Adness)

The 3rd movie in the series is directed by Takashi Shimizu, who brought us all of the Ju-on movies (5 and counting).

The film starts with a young painter completing a portrait of Tomie, before murdering her. His two closest friends help bury her in the woods. Later at a birthday party, the three of them are bewildered to see that she's returned. Their lives are soon turned upside-down - one needs his girlfriend, Hitomi, another turns to his mother to help keep Tomie away.

Strangely, in the promotional documentary in the DVD extras, director Shimizu says that he thinks humour is needed in horror films. Zoiks, I always thought that part of the strength of the Ju-on films is the unrelenting, scary mood – the story careering from one scare to the next.

Also, if I hadn’t watched the documentary, I wouldn’t have known there was humour in the film! There’s maybe some dark irony as two of Tomie’s murderers talk about mundane matters while they dispose of her body – so, thankfully, he didn’t resort to blatant comedy relief. He seems intent on making his own distinctive entry to the series – while re-cycling ideas that have been used in the previous films (there's even a scene copied from the climax of Another Face).

Strangely, the film doesn’t get much beyond creepy, it’s not nearly as frightening as Tomie: Replay. It get’s very grisly, more bloody – Tomie dies a lot in this one. But whereas the previous films had a constantly odd atmosphere throughout, Tomie: Rebirth allows us to stay more grounded in normality – the mundanity of normal surroundings, streets, shops and houses.

My favourite scene involves a street corner at night and a carrier bag – easily as scary as Ju-on. Unfortunately there’s not many moments like that here. Trying to make Tomie perform new tricks means that there’s also computer effects used instead of the convincingly physical prosthetic effects of the previous films. This severely compromises the climax for me.

I guess that because of Tomie’s powers, it doesn’t matter that different actresses play her. As a purist, I think Tomie should always ‘come back’ looking the same. I think the series could be more of a phenomenon if one actress had become associated with the role. Having said that, so far everyone who plays the role has brought something new to it.

This time around, Miki Sakai proves to be the most beautiful and alluring Tomie so far. She looks more mature and powerfully creepy, but perhaps isn't as threatening as the others. She certainly seems to be regenerating faster than usual.

Overall the acting isn’t very even, but the stressed-out mother is excellent, as are Hitomi and Tomie who have the hardest roles.

I enjoyed this the first time I saw it, but now watching it alongside the other Tomie films, it feels less strange than it should. It’s good, but with a heavyweight horror director, it should have been great.

The Adness region 1 DVD is good for extras – there’s a subtitled promotional programme with interesting interviews with the cast and the director. There’s also a revealing look at how the major special effects were achieved. Some of them fooled me completely.

The feature is slightly matted to 1.85 widescreen – it’s anamorphically presented. The excellent audio is in Japanese in 5.1. The english subtitles are removable – the translations are good, but occasionally stilted. The worst part of the DVD is the picture – it’s quite murky and a little soft too.

Mark H

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