June 24, 2006

HELL (2005) Thai horror out on DVD in the UK

HELL (Thailand, 2005, aka Narok)

Out now on region 2 PAL DVD in the UK, from Anchor Bay, with DTS sound and english subtitles. Hell is one of the better Thai horrors and has reached our shores very quickly.

A reminder that I reviewed this Thai movie and the original Japanese Jigoku films back in March. The review was of the movie and the Thai DVD.

June 21, 2006

ULTRAMAN MEBIUS (2006) New series, new movie


A TV Ultraman deliberately played for laughs

(Note, when you're Googling for this, it's also spelt Mobius or Moebius.)

Only seen a couple of episodes of this so far - the first DVD of 4 episodes has been released in Japan (pictured above) - but this series looks like a lot of fun, almost at Ultraman's expense. The series (like the Ultraman Zearth specials) doubles as a send up of the giant hero genre, with plenty of contemporary in-jokes. Looks like the tongue-in-cheek tone of Ultraman Max has encouraged the producers to proceed to an all-out comedy.

Ultraman Mebius is sent to help Earth by his Ultra-Father (who overdramatically likes swishing his cape around). Earth's space defence squad are a bunch of impossible active young people (including a motorbike racer and a footballer). Two of the GUYS have slightly exaggerated ridiculously high hairstyles (like the recent Young Kindaichis).

As a giant monster invades, the GUYS rush to the rescue to evacuate a city of people, children and bunny rabbits. Their boss is informed of the emergency (while he's out playing golf) but he fails to reach headquarters because his car breaks down.

Meanwhile, as Ultraman leaps into action, the crowds all start taking his picture on their camera phones. After a destructive fight with the monster, most of the city is completely smashed down - "You've failed, everything's destroyed, Ultraman!"

Even the modelwork has been made to look silly - the models are slightly too small and intended not to fool anyone. The missiles look more like fireworks.

In Japan, this Summer's Ultraman movie will feature Mebius, but whether it will stay quite as silly remains to be seen. It's the 40th Anniversary of the birth of Ultraman, so there's going to be homage a-plenty. Here's the advance flyer...

Mark H

ULTRAMAN MAX (2005) Seriously action-packed TV


I'm amazed at how the Tsuburaya Production Company keep taking a limited formula for a show and making it work so well. For every poor Ultraman series there are several great ones.

After the childishness of Ultraman Cosmos, Ultraman Max is a return to form. Not that the format is that much different, it's the more mature characters and the teen target audience that matter.

The series sits between the much more serious Ultraman Nexus and the latest, Ultraman Mebius. Max is invigorated by fast, inventive action. It's great to see their patrol cars finally fitted with useful gadgets - they can even fly out of trouble!

There's an emphasis on special guests and guest directors. None other than Takashi Miike came in to direct two episodes (15 and 16), wishing to take to any job offered to him. I've even recognised some of the guest actors, recruited from some recent, classic monster movies. For example, Steven Seagal's daughter Ayako Fujitani, and comedy relief maestro Yukijiro Hotaru, who both featured in the three recent Gamera movies, both star in episodes.

It's not dark like Nexus, Max has got tongue-in-cheek humour together with a remit for fast-moving action, making it a series that's enjoyable for adults too. The very silly episodes (like the Bad Scanners concert, where rock 'n' roll saves the world), is successfully funny. The series seemed to be veering towards self-parody to prepare audiences for the next series Ultraman Mebius.

On an irrelevant note, I don't understand it when someone in Earth defences spots a new monster they've never seen before, how in blazes do they know it's name?

The entire series of Ultraman Max is out on Hong Kong DVDs (examples pictured above) with English subtitles. There are also 2 CD albums of the soundtrack music.

Mark H

ULTRAMAN COSMOS (2001) Ultra TV series with 3 movie spin-offs

ULTRAMAN COSMOS - TV Series (2001 - 2002)
Over the years, the Japanese Ultraman series have veered between two extremes - from the hardnosed gritty action where characters even die in Ultraman Nexus, to the childish acting and cute monsters of Ultraman Cosmos.

As always, every episode, Japan gets threatened by a giant monster.and in this series it's the EYES team that fly to the rescue from their special island base. They usually stall the monster long enough until Ultraman sorts it all out. Unbeknownst to the members of EYES, one of their young pilots, Musashi, is actually a living host to Ultraman - whenever there's danger, he can transform into the giant alien defender for a few minutes in order to save the day.

There's a flimsy narrative that runs through the series about an outer space force that 'possesses' otherwise peace-loving (giant) monsters. It's not like the complex story arc of Ultraman Nexus. Neither is it adult, violent or creepy like Nexus, which was my previous favourite series. Cosmos is a real slog to get through, and is really only for the very young.

Many of the monsters are too cute, and the EYES team are dedicated more to conservation rather than obliteration. This means less fighting and more silliness. The EYES Task Force are all adults, but they act like they're in a classroom. The idea that this crowd could be entrusted to save the world is constantly ridiculous. The likeable cast are made to act like naughty schoolchildren. They rarely get a chance for any serious acting or even subtle comedy. Fubuki looks the most convincing as a pilot, rather than the rather wet lead, Musashi.

The FX are fun, the monster suits are excellently made, better so than Ultraman's, which are more creasy and ill-fitting than usual.

The climactic fights are slowly staged and constantly fall back on poor video tricks. Also the emphasis is on defensive fighting - Ultraman tries to push opponents away rather than harming them, it's honourably pacifistic, but limits his variety of moves.

Admittedly the very first Ultraman in 1966 was aimed squarely at the whole family, even having a young boy help out Earth's anti-monster task force. But the extended run of Cosmos (at 64 episodes) has been a hard slog to get through. I watched the whole thing to see if the tone changed at all. There's a couple of stand-out episodes, but they're pretty rare.

Towards the end of the series, many monster suits from the series are re-used - it's rare in Ultraman for this to happen, usually a brand new foe arrives every episode. This lack of ideas or new monsters makes the series look like its run was extended late in the day.

If you really want it, the entire series is available from Hong Kong on 8 DVD volumes that contain between 4 and 8 episodes each (an example of the cover art is shown above). The English subtitles are sometimes pretty vague but help you follow the action. There are also behind-the-scenes clips from each episode as DVD extras.

You can also get the series from Japan but without English subtitles.

On the other hand, the series spawned 3 feature films which were the best of their kind, until Ultraman Next was released. I'd recommend any Ultra-fans out there to give the Cosmos series a miss and check out the movies instead. They were all out on subtitled DVDs from Hong Kong.

First Contact sets up the Ultraman Cosmos series by showing us how Mushashi, as a young boy, becomes Ultraman. The effects are OK (apart from the opening fight in space between CGI characters), including a startling transparent Ultraman. Once again, it's the monster Baltan who's the main foe - Baltan was the very first adversary for Ultraman in the first episode of the 1966 series.

The monster-friendly theme of the TV series is established in the film in a scene where the EYES team try to fend off a giant monster by punching it gently on the nose (with giant boxing gloves that have inflated out of their Thunder vehicles)! Similarly silly is an attempt to sing Baltan a lullaby (out of huge speakers that have sprouted from their planes) and send him to sleep. Also, there's a lot of kids charging about in this one, a stereotyped grandad/inventor and a flying toy robot.


The other 2 movies are more action-packed, with solid effects and imaginative storylines, which are far more enjoyable for older audiences. In Blue Planet, there'a whole undersea race of humanoid aliens and some marvellously realised CGI alien 'whales'. The island locations (in Southern Japan) release the characters from the small, claustrophobic sets of the TV series. This film takes place after the series timeline has ended, but also doubles as a direct sequel to the first film. But you don't have to see the series to understand the films.

The ambitious storyline packs in UFOs, worldwide destruction, and a fleet of marauding giant monsters that look like a cross between Meganeuron (from the Godzilla film) and Legion (from Gamera 2). The monster suits are awesome-looking, and there's many action-scenes with plenty of large-scale model work. Some cast members and characters appear from the Ultraman Tiga series, and there's even a special guest Ultraman late in the action.

The DVD cover (above) is from the region 3 Hong Kong release. I'm not sure who the kids are on the front cover though - they seem to have strayed in from the first film and don't appear in the second - it's an all adult cast. The widescreen picture is letterbox and not anamorphic. The english subtitles are generally OK. There are trailers and TV spots as extras, as well as some behind the scenes footage and an extra scene (but these are not subtitled).


Finally, this third part of the movie trilogy keeps on referencing the previous two movies, virtually recalling everyone in the casts for a reunion.

Our soppy hero, Musashi, is about to transplant some of his favourite creatures from Monster Island to a new life on other planets. He is thwarted on the launch pad by an unseen bunch of aggressive aliens and their giant robots - the awesomely designed 'Glokers'. Shock horror, Ultraman Justice (who briefly appeared in Blue Planet) is fighting on their side!

After a catastrophic defeat, can Earth summon a defence against the alien fleet of spaceships, an army of heavily armed robots and a mother of a mothership!

The human counterpart of Ultraman Justice is revealed to be a woman, played by Kazue Fukiishi who, dressed in black leather and heavy eye shadow, looks like a living prototype for Lil Mayer, the lead character in Ergo Proxy. She gets all the best dramatic scenes and a great gravity-defying fight at the foot of Tokyo's Rainbow Bridge.

The action here is non-stop, Tokyo takes a heavy beating, and there's a tremendous outer space finale. The traditional large-scale miniatures and monster suits are aided by flawless compositing and some subtle CGI FX.

The script's repetitive and preachy 'love conquers all' messages running throughout the film make it not as good as Blue Planet, but just as short (about 76 minutes). But the pros outweigh the cons, making this an Ultraman movie that I keep on revisiting.

region 3 Hong Kong DVD again has a letterbox picture but not anamorphic. The english subtitles are generally OK. There are trailers and TV spots as extras, as well as a little behind-the-scenes footage.

Mark H

June 04, 2006

ERGO PROXY - new techno-gothic anime action

Just wanted to flag a few new anime series that have been made with a great deal of care, and buck the trend that they all have to feature cute monsters, samurai, school children or giant robots. I've already mentioned Mushishi, which is my current favourite, but here's a few runners-up.


This started really well with a crazed demon-thing loose in a futuristic city. It is being tracked by a decidedly goth-looking detective (I think she looks a lot like the lead singer from Curve, Toni Halliday). But then the action calms down to follow rebel life outside the sealed city, which is considerably duller.

Part of the premise seems to involve supposedly emotionless androids contracting a virus and somehow 'getting religion'. A phenomenon that could cause chaos in all that's left of human society. Is there a connection with the super-fast being murdering everything in its way?

Awesome opening episodes though, great art, even arty and some fierce action. It stuck me that this shares a similar premise to Ghost in the Shell, but it couldn't be more different.

A little girl cyborg called Pino (wearing bunny rabbit fancy dress) is becoming a fascinating character. I'll stick with it and hope Lil, the detective goth gets back into the action.

I'm definitely sticking with it though, episode 11 was a total trip!

July 7 Update:

Twitch film reports that Ergo Proxy will get released on Region 1 DVD at the end of the year... full report linked here.

GUNSLINGER GIRL - girls with guns anime, but deadly serious


A team of young girls, partly cybernetic, are trained to become munitions experts for a covert government agency. This short series, of 13 episodes, started well but then completely fizzled out.

A strong through story didn’t really develop. The girls go on missions and start getting to know their trainers. You start doubting whether they’re working for the government at all and are just guns for hire. Then it ends.

There's some attractive characters but not enough characterisation. There's a beautiful score, fantastic animation, but only a limited amount of action. Unusually it's all set in Italy, so there's lots of art, statues and opera - a very touristy view of the country, but it keeps it fresh-looking. There's some heart-stopping moments, lots of heart-to-heart chat, dollops of tragedy and not enough plot.

Gunslinger Girl is currently being released in both the US and UK on DVD.

BLOOD+ - epic vampire-slaying anime

UPDATED 30th September 2006

BLOOD+ (2005, TV, Japan)

A 50-episode anime with a continuous epic story arc, from Production I.G, the makers of Ghost in the Shell - Stand Alone Complex.

This series expands on the premise of the animated short film Blood - The Last Vampire (DVD pictured above). Saya, a schoolgirl vampire hunter, has to prime her sword with her own blood to be able to vanquish huge vampire man-beasts and their superfast protectors, the chevaliers.

She's aided by Haji, a cello-playing bodyguard and a team of government agents. It's set modern day (rather than the sixties setting of the original short film).

But the bloody and epic duels are usually divided by several episodes of quiet soul-searching chat and sightseeing, as the team travel around the world. It would make a truly exceptional movie with all the chat cut out (which they have done with the first series of Stand Alone Complex).

I love it for the animation and the realistic characters, then I hate it for killing time between story points. It’s truly awesome when there are plot developments - major bloody mayhem. Full marks for depicting charcters who can fight at speeds faster than the eye can see. When there's two of them going at it, how would you show that? Animation house Production I.G have figured it out.

There’s also a really excellent
soundtrack from Mark Mancina, who's crafted an exciting score that sounds good enough to be a modern James Bond. Highly recommended, 2 CD soundtracks have been released of Mancina's music (see CD Japan for details). Just don’t get the alternate CD of Haji’s cello recitals by mistake (I’m not kidding).

IGPX - futuristic robot racing anime


Yet another I.G animation studio production, this time tailored for the US Cartoon Network channel. A lavish and spectacular 13 part series made in widescreen.

A young team of racers enter the International Grand Prix of the future, for the first time. Racing inside tailor-made high-speed robots, the teams are allowed some contact fighting to try and maintain their leads. The race track looks like a gigantic Hot Wheels layout that winds through the gleaming glass city.

Obviously the races look spectacular and the teenage squabbling of the teams is fun. But as the series progressed, the races started to feel samey and any possible major upsets dissipate, leaving only a simple tournament of racing statistics, rather than a story.

It looks great, there's a lively up-to-the-minute techno soundtrack, and a telepathic cat - the only real innovation. Luka the cat acts as a co-pilot - he has a little cyber-suit and everything!

BINCHOU-TAN - cutest anime ever


Cute to the power of ten, this lushly produced widesceen series seems to be aimed at 5 years olds - surely too young to appreciate the high-tech, state-of-the-art animation. Boasting a rich, orchestral soundtrack, the delicate stories tell of a group of little wood sprites (all girls) who make their way in the world enjoying the pleasures of a simple life and working hard – am I over-reacting when I think this looks like an instructional video on how Japanese girls should know their place?

Cute off the scale, their eyes are ridiculously huge. The main character, the impoverished Binchou-tan lives in the forest in a little hut, sleeping under a little torn blanket. She's so small that she can ride around on the back of a duck! I particularly like her bus stop. She stands and waits, holding a large nut. A bird swoops down and carries her to the next stop! She pays him with the nut!

These are only about 12 minutes long each and I'm not sure how many there are going to be. They are so Japanese I'm worried they won't be sold outside of Japan, but I really enjoy the exquisite care taken in crafting their little adventures. It puts the animation that Disney make for children's TV to shame.

Mark H

June 02, 2006

TOMIE (1998) - horror that refuses to die

The writer/artist Junji Ito

Through the years, Tomie has turned into a formidable series of movies, thanks to the inventiveness of the artist/writer Junji Ito, who drew so many Tomie manga that film-makers have had a mineful of ideas to draw on.

I also talked about Ito's work in my review of
Uzumaki, if you want to see more of the horror he's inspired. I think he writes and draws the scariest horror comics ever! The original Tomie manga were thankfully translated into English in three volumes a few years ago, but you might still pick them up on eBay.
The stories are graphically horrifying, but not graphic sexually. In simple black and white, Ito invokes body horror in a new and terrible way that the movies still find hard to outgross.

So here we go with reviews for all seven Tomie DVDs.

Each one has a stand-alone plot – so don't be afraid to dip in!

(Japan, 1998)

All-region Hong Kong DVD (Universe Video)

The first film, Tomie, was one of the earliest Japanese horror films I bought after seeing Ring. I wanted to find out what else Japan had to offer.

First time around, I liked Tomie because of the queasy atmosphere and the obscure storyline - the idea of what was going on slowly dawned on me, and it was bizarre and horrible. The iconic cover art of the eye looking out of the carrier bag was a brilliant hook - a throwback to the premise of Frank Henenlotter's Basket Case movies - something small, horrible and portable.

But Tomie isn’t just a living head, she’s growing…

Kept in a box in a dingy flat and fed by her demented boyfriend, Tomie slowly regains her full stature. Meanwhile upstairs, former classmate Tsukiko has no idea that the horror that blanked out her memory three years earlier, is actually her new neighbour.

Tomie is a new monster – one we haven’t met before. This film is a good introduction to her and her methods. Tomie manages to capture the demented and violent world of the Tomie manga – the squabbling teenagers and their violent, tangled love lives. Tomie is so beautiful that she entrances her boyfriends. But like an addiction, they come to hate their dependence on her and the murder she incites.

Actress Miho Kanno really looks like the manga Tomie, fleshing out the character with demented giggling, hairpin mood swings and an unearthly threatening stare.

The film may not be as grisly as the manga, but it succeeds at hinting at further horrors. It sometimes does this with subliminal 'shock cuts' of visceral make-up effects, rather than the less physical computer-aided FX which I’m sure would be used in any US remake.

Unfortunately, the carefully built-up tension, dissipates towards the climax. Tsukiko doesn't react horrified, so much as inconvenienced. The film ends with a damp squib and introduces some unnecessary loose ends at the last minute. It's not a perfect film, but achieves an awful lot on a low budget.

Tomie is an original horror concept, and not a wannabe Ring. They were released the same year and I'm sure if Tomie had come out any later it would have been tailored to look more like Ring. It's a film that I enjoy re-watching for the atmosphere of madness, and the scary soundtrack. Admittedly, I understand the plot better for having read the comics.

I have the Hong Kong DVD (pictured above), that was released shortly after the film came out. It has poorly translated English subtitles, a washed out look, and a non-anamorphic widescreen transfer from a rather jumpy print. The dark areas are so crushed that Tomie's little trademark mole (under her left eye) is almost lost in the murk.

But Tomie is now out on Region 1 DVD, as are all the other films. I hope it's a better transfer, with better subtitles.

There's a trailer, with English subtitles on YouTube...

Check out the links, at the start of this article, for the reviews of the sequels...

TOMIE: ANOTHER FACE (1999) short stories on video

Region 1 US DVD (Adness)

Tomie's back - in three parts!

Tomie next appears in 3 short stories, made either for the direct-to-video market, or maybe TV. They're shot on video in fullscreen 4:3 and the compilation even appears to have ad breaks between the stories.

The first starts with a typical love triangle at school. But when Tomie is in the triangle and already dead – it’s not going to have a happy outcome. Actress Luna Nagai certainly looks the right age and is very good at simpering, but she has a tough time in conveying malevolence. Again, this story introduces Tomie's basic modus operandi and at the very least features a convincing and shocking death scene.

The second story is about a photographer who searches for his childhood sweetheart and finds that, even ten years on, she hasn’t aged. This has less surprises, and starts playing with Tomie's look. Once you start covering her in make-up and changing her hair, she doesn't look the part any more. I liked the wall-to-wall music here, but it's very derivative of Massive Attack and Twin Peaks.

Finally, the last story manages to keep you guessing. A lovestruck salaryman is warned of Tomie’s ex-boyfriends and her history of being murdered (!). How can she be stopped? There’s some new twists here for the character, and this segment is the bloodiest, with a rousing finale.

This is all not as bad as other reviews had warned, but it’s very unambitious, only skimming the potential of the manga and hardly using any of the original visual ideas. Tomie: Another Face concentrates instead on her sexy schoolgirl allure and un-schoolgirl-like potty mouth. It reads more as a morality tale about older men dating young girls.

This is really only for Tomie completists and certainly not a good way to enter the series. It's soapy, rather than creepy, focussing on crimes of passion, rather than extremes of madness.

Mark H

TOMIE: REPLAY (2000) - decapitation, shock, horror

Region 1 US DVD (Adness)

The curse of the cornershop carrier bag continues

Presumably not wanting to be saddled with the title Tomie 2, the strangely named Tomie: Replay injects a needed round of solid shocks in this, the second cinema outing of the series.

Centred around a seriously underlit hospital, it begins with a ghastly operation, where Tomie's head is cut out of a little girl's stomach! Afterwards, almost everyone who took part in the operation disappears, including the surgeon. His daughter sets out to find him, trying to make sense of his blood-soaked diary. Meanwhile a young patient discovers Tomie walking the corridors at night and agrees to take her home with him, poor fool. Murder, mayhem and mutation soon follow.

This film gets a bigger budget than the first, enabling a more expansive story with several stories revolving around a hospital that’s going out of control. The likeable and experienced cast are convincing, and there's enough money for some haunting FX.

Yet another actress plays Tomie here, Mai Hosho (later to appear in Suicide Circle - they needed a lot of schoolgirls for that one), and there's a new director to the series, Tomijiro Mitsuishi, who succeeds in bringing in some powerful heart-stopping moments and creep-outs. Finally we have a bona fide Tomie horror film to recommend.

We get to see how men usually treat her - maybe a meal, then murder, then dismemberment. There's not much graphic gore, but some grisly sound FX make the scenes more than effective. Using Junji Ito's manga as inspiration, there's also a marvellous mutated corpse, and a madman's face that both stick closely to the dark visions of the original drawings.

The film occasionally goes off the rails, with a couple of over-the-top moments that don't work and even some unintentional laughs. The main complaint I have is that there’s not enough of Tomie herself - we spend more time with the other characters tracking her down and mopping up after her.

These are quibbles though - this is a well-structured horror film, enhanced greatly by an atmospheric and effective soundtrack. The region 1 DVD (pictured above) has an anamorphic widescreen picture, 5.1 audio, good (removable) english subtitles, and even trailers for the first 5 Tomie releases.

But as we shall see, it won’t be the last time they’ll be burying Tomie's head in the forest…

Mark H

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

TOMIE: FORBIDDEN FRUIT (2002) - not the final chapter

Tomie: The Final Chapter - Forbidden Fruit
(Japan, 2002, Saishuu-sho - kindan no kajitsu)

How you can you ever safely say that you're making a final Tomie film.

Tomie befriends a schoolgirl who's getting bullied. I mean seriously bullied. The bullies are using a crossbow. Tomie visits her new friend, who's coincidentally called Tomie, and lives alone with her father. For a little while, we think that evil Tomie has lost her charm and no longer drives men wild. Then we learn that she's already had an affair with him 25 years earlier. Of course while he's aged, she hasn't changed a bit. She's also rather cross that he's named his daughter after her. As Tomie cosies up to both dad and daughter, we wonder where it's all going to lead. What is Tomie up to?

This film starts deceptively slowly, with Tomie behaving herself - I was concerned that they'd even changed her character. Her friendship with the other Tomie is given time to develop, and we learn more of the father's back-story in flashbacks. This all sets up the second half of the film, where things get a little, well, crunchier. All I'll say is baseball bat and buzzsaw.

To ensure a better response to this film, the producers used a new strategy - no new young directors or bad acting, instead there's a veteran director and a small but heavyweight cast.

Bad Tomie is played by Nozomi Ando, who'd just starred in the excellent Sakuya, Slayer of Demons - she went on to star in cult hits Kibakichi and Suicide Manual. She's an excellent Tomie, but more malicious than evil.

Innocent Tomie is played by Aoi Miyazaki, who is currently riding on the success of the buddy-movie smash hit chick-flick Nana, where she stars as one of the two Nanas.

Her father, Kazuhiko is played by esteemed actor Jun Kunimura who was in Audition (not the unfortutate lead) and Kill Bill Vol.1 as Tanaka, and many other major Japanese films, usually as senior military officers or bosses. His role is the hardest and it's wonderful to see him underplay his role in a genre that usually gives way to overacting.

The title of the film is also 'hard sell' - a double come-on: admittedly it's the 'final chapter' in the initial once-a-year cycle of Tomie films, but we're also promised 'forbidden fruit' - publicity photographs angling towards the schoolgirl relationship as lesbian, and teasing us with a rekindled love affair with a 25 year age gap.

Much is made of Tomie's kissing scenes, but these also make the central story between the three characters very dramatic and very realistic.

But as director Shun Nakahara steps up the horror, he seems less and less able to take it seriously. There's some real Junji Ito horror stuff later on, but it's constantly leavened with humour. At least this time it's actually funny, but it's a shame that the horror isn't as intense as the drama.

For once the digital effects are convincing, relying on seamless compositing rather than computer-generated imagery. There's less blood than usual, some surreal body horror and the clever use of the refrigeration plant that the dad works in...

The soundtrack is suitably weird and discomforting, but this time a little too eccentric, the music occasionally distracting you from the action. The constant chorus of the omnipresent crows adds to the atmosphere of forboding

Once again, this Tomie story doesn’t follow on from any other. They are all stand alone stories, like the manga. This film seems to be a little out of step with the mood of the series, but after a slow start, it has quite a grip! Of the first five Tomie entries (four films, one made-for-TV) all are entirely watchable. Each has their own strengths and weaknesses, and each their own special character. If you don't like one, you may like another. It's a lot like a box of chocolates (sorry)...

The Hong Kong DVD that I watched had seriously lousy subtitles, so I'm going to get the region 1 version soon. At least this had 30 minutes of behind-the-scenes footage that was very interesting and self-explanatory, even without subs. The film was beautifully shot and presented in 1.85 widescreen.

Mark H

TOMIE: REVENGE (2005) confused v-cinema late entry

TOMIE: REVENGE (2005, Japan)
Hong Kong region 3 NTSC DVD (Universe Video)

What have they done to Tomie?

So, 2 years after the last film, Tomie: The Final Chapter, we get not one, but two new Tomie titles. I was very excited about these, until I saw them...

Dr Suma knocks over a young woman while driving in the woods at night. She seems unharmed and quickly disappears. The Dr looks for the woman in an isolated mansion, where she finds 2 madmen raving "Tomie" and a woman unconscious in a sleeping bag. What on earth is going on?

We learn more at the nearby hospital where Dr Suma works. She gets questioned by two 'National Security men' looking for Tomie, who think that she has the power to physically invade other women's bodies. They think she is living nearby in the woods...

Well, the first place I'd have looked would be the mansion! But here it takes a whole hour of screen time for anyone to figure that out!

The possession theme means that Tomie barely makes an appearance in person, her female victims get all the action. I also think possession is also Tomie's least interesting power - here it seems to be her only skill.

I was disappointed to find that this had been shot on video, the opening night scenes looked especially murky and smeary. This low-budget production is an example of the perils of v-cinema titles, they rarely deliver (The first two Ju-on v-films are a notable exception).

I was confused by the narrative and the shaky handheld camerawork. In was disappointed at how poor some of the acting was. The messy and very short story ends with a surprise that cheats rather than satisfies. The whole thing is missing the atmosphere of Tomie's creepiness. The writer/director is Ataru Oikawa. His previous work includes Tokyo Psycho, which I will be avoiding.

In its favour there's some convincing drama from the two leads, Dr Suma (Hisako Shirata) and her boss (Kyusaku Shimada, the lead heavy in Princess Blade). There's also and a couple of gory scenes we haven't seen in the series before, but they're misjudged, overplayed and don't resemble anything in Junji Ito's drawings.

The sound mix is uninvolving and lazily pumps up the volume to prop up some rather obvious leaping-out-at-the-camera scares.

I can't say anything nice about Tomie: Revenge. It makes the first 5 Tomie's look even more consistent, imaginative and carefully crafted. I'd even recommend the made-for-TV Tomie: Another Face over this one. I also won't recommend this to Tomie completists because it's so divorced from the source material.

The Hong Kong DVD (pictured above) has good subtitles and an anamorphic widescreen presentation. The audio sounded like a rushed stereo mix. There are just 2 trailers as extras. The film is due to be released on Region 1 DVD in the US.

Mark H

TOMIE: BEGINNING (2005) the final final chapter

Hong Kong region 3 NTSC DVD (Universe Video)

Tomie gets back to the bag...

From Ataru Oikawa, the same writer/director as Tomie: Revenge comes a slightly better, but equally clumsy tale. At least I could tell that it was based on an early story by Junji Ito about Tomie's schooldays.

The story starts present day at a rather poor turnout at a class reunion. Only two former pupils are left to reminisce about Tomie joining their school. The rest of the class are either dead, missing or institutionalised. Mostly told in flashbacks, we see how schoolgirl Tomie divides and conquers. (I don't think that this tale, set 20 years earlier, constitutes Tomie's true 'beginning' - I suspect that she's a lot older than she looks...)

Again shot on video, again with annoyingly loose camerawork (there's a spectacular shot of Mount Fuji at the start of the film that's almost thrown away!). At least the performances are more even than in Tomie: Revenge.

Rio Matsumoto plays Tomie here - she's OK but she hasn't got the nasty giggling quite right. Her first evil acts are little more than grade school bullying, so the film flounders for a while. Later, contrary to her usual M.O. of tormenting her boyfriends and forcing them to kill her, she compels boys to work for her (like she did in Revenge) - this merely keeps her out of the action.

There's more of Tomie's powers of regeneration here than in Revenge, which leads to some confusion for the viewer and some half-hearted special effects - a 'crawling' ear being dragged along the ground belongs in a fifties 'B' movie. There's a better scene where a bandage soaked in Tomie's blood starts regenerating, but logically this means there should be three of her running around (original Tomie, ear Tomie, and bandage Tomie) - more loose ends left dangling from this straggly tale.

One big death scene is off camera (I'm not even sure how she was supposed to have died unless I read the manga again) and the film's big gross-out scene is played for laughs. Her victims' 'mad' scenes are unconvincing and OTT. With no atmosphere and no creepy thrills, all that the film offers is a short story and a little spurting blood - very similar ingredients to the average Thai horror, which isn't saying much.

To be fair, one mad little scene theorises that Tomie is related to a flatworm (!) and the stock footage of the little critter is very interesting, though of no use to the plot. The other highpoint is the ending, firstly because it's a relief that it's finally over and secondly, that it leads neatly back to the first film...

The Hong Kong DVD (pictured above) is anamorphic widescreen, NTSC, decent english subtitles and in stereo. There are two trailers as extras. The film (well, it runs 72 minutes) is coming to Region 1 DVD soon.

Tomie: the final word

I was very disappointed that these two recent additions didn't exceed the accomplishments of any of the first five Tomie films. I doubt if anyone will be encouraged to make any new tales for several years - the unfilmed manga would require considerable skill and formidable special effects! Similarly Ito's epic Gyo, about a land invasion of monstrous fish is also unfilmable. Why doesn't someone make some Uzumaki sequels instead?

Tomie is a unique horror character, though typical of Japanese horror - where powerful women are evil and must be dealt with severely. Where female biology is a bizarre mystery, bordering on the supernatural. Where any woman who looks overtly sexy should be avoided, because once you get involved, she'll ruin your life. Just stick to non-assertive women who don't wear make-up, you'll be fine!

All in all I'd only recommend the Tomie stories made on film, because they are uniquely creepy horror films, and are faithful to Junji Ito's marvelous and mysterious Tomie 'mythos':

Tomie: Replay
Tomie: Rebirth
Tomie: Forbidden Fruit

Mark H

June 01, 2006



Forget Sherlock Holmes and Scooby Doo - who's the greatest detective in Japan? Kindaichi!

The more I investigate this character, the more I find out! Anime, manga, novels, TV and movies. There are the period murder mysteries featuring Kousuke Kindaichi, or there are the modern-day cases solved by his grandson, Hajime.

The stories usually flirt with supernatural explanations (to throw us off the scent), the murders are numerous and bloody - some stories border on slasher movie territory in terms of body counts - and the plots are twisty, often delving back into numerous flashbacks to explain the motivations and actions of the killer.

The Case Files of Young Kindaichi (TV anime, 1997)

I first encountered Kindaichi in the Toei Studios' anime series Kindaichi No Jikenbo. This franchise of both manga and anime is the character's most famous incarnation in the west. Teenager Hajime is a goofy student, slightly accident prone and sporting a pony-tail. He's usually accompanied by girl-friend Miyuke Nanase, who normally ends up being seriously injured or at least stalked by the killer - but Hajime gets all the glory. His Uncle is in the police force, so he normally has an excuse for getting into crime scenes.

There were a whopping 148 half-hour episodes made between 1997 and 2000, usually spreading each story over 3 or 4 instalments.

There were also two animated movies. The first, The Case Files of Young Kindaichi in 1996, riffed on the story of The Phantom of the Opera, and was based on the manga story The Opera House Murders.

When a play is produced in a theatre on a small island, a classic 'locked-room' murder can only be solved by Kindaichi. The film starts well enough, with the claustrophobia of being trapped on the island adding to the atmosphere. But after more people are killed, the action returns to the mainland, and the explanations and deductions take another half an hour of screen time to sort it all out!

The second movie came out in 1999 and was called Deep Blue Massacre. It too was produced by Toei Animation.

The Case Files of Young Kindaichi (live action)

As well as the anime, there've been (I think) three live-action TV series centred on Young Hajime Kindaichi, again based on the manga stories.

The Case Files of Young Kindaichi
(Kindaichi Shonen No Jikembo) 1995
This live-action series starred Tsuyoshi Domoto, a member of the Kinki Kids pop group. This series crammed entire stories into one-hour episodes. Aimed at teenagers, the stories have a little more sex, violence and bad language than the anime. They're fun and fast-moving, but with more broad comedy than serious thrills. Young Kindaichi is still accident prone and forever hungry, but here he's also unusually cute - a bit too much like a pop star. At least they didn't give him a ponytail.

His co-star (seen on the Japanese DVD cover above) is played by Rie Tomosaka. Incredibly, some of the same stories re-appeared in the anime, only two years later.

The Case Files of Young Kindaichi
(Kindaichi Shonen No Jikembo) 2001
Kindaichi returned as a second series with the same name but a new cast. This time starring Kazuya Kamenashi, he's the one on the right. As you can see, in the tradition of Kindaichi having silly haircuts, this time around, the character is sporting an androgynous Ziggy Stardust hairdo.

Both the 1995 and the 2001 live-action series are available on DVD from Japan, but without english subtitles. The series is slightly more serious (in tone) than usual, with more drama and thrills. The pictures above are from a feature-length TV Special (2005), where Kazuya is up against what appears to be a vampire...

The Case Files of Young Kindaichi 3
(Kindaichi shônen no jikenbo 3) 2005
The third Young Kindaichi TV series stars Jun Matsumoto as Hajime (he's the one on the left on the Japanese DVD cover below) and Anne Suzuki. Kazuya is in the pop group Arashi. Like the 2001 series, it's produced in widescreen and is out on DVD but with no English subtitles.

As well as the hour-long episodes, there's already been an expensive movie-length special, The Magic Train Murder Case, a story which was previously dramatised in the anime series. The music for this new series is a pounding, modern electro score that I really like.

So if you want spooky teen drama with a healthy dose of murder, Young Kindaichi is for you. If you prefer something a little more mature, the you'll be better off with the 'old' Kindaichi. The character of Hajikme Kindaichi isn't old in the films, they're just set a long time ago. Hajime is the "Grandfather" who Young Kindaichi keeps swearing that he must not fail. To read about him, go to this post...

(Thanks to 'Vera' for helping me get my facts right!)

THE CASE FILES OF KINDAICHI - six decades of detection

An attempted checklist of the film and TV adventures of Japan's answer to Sherlock Holmes... Kousuke Kindaichi

(UPDATED 10th August 2007)
If you want to read about Young Kindaichi (he's called Hajime) better known for his anime adventures, see my other
Kindaichi article here.

Actor Goro Inagaki as Kousuke Kindaichi in a 2004 TV special


While the various screen incarnations of Young Hajime Kindaichi are based on manga, the character's grandfather began with the written word. Kousuke Kindaichi started life in the novels of Seishi Yokomizo, written and set in post-war Japan. Inspired by Arthur Conan Doyle and Agatha Christie, Kindaichi is still very much a unique character, giving the Japanese their very own literary hero-detective.

He's a young man with bad dandruff and worse dress-sense (decades before Columbo), who wears a trademark, scruffy sunhat. He also happens to be better than the police at deductive reasoning. Having gained publicity for solving a high-profile murder case, the detectives allow him to work with them again.

I'm guessing these books were first turned into movies almost immediately. But they didn't become really popular until the 1970's, when the films and the novels became a real phenomenon. I don't know if many have been translated into english before, but the first (?) novel, The Inugami Clan, is available in English at the moment (cover shown below).


There have been around 20 actors to play amateur detective Kousuke Kindaichi so far. I've listed below the films that I could find on IMDB that feature the character, and I've listed in brackets the actor playing Kindaichi in each.

The adaptions started with a run of films all starring Chiezo Kataoka as Kindaichi...

1947 Sanbon yubi no otoko a.k.a. Honjin Murder Case (Chiezo Kataoka)
1949 Gokumon-to (Chiezo Kataoka)
1951 Yatsuhaka-mura a.k.a. Village of Eight Gravestones (Chiezo Kataoka)
1954 Inugami-ke no nazo: Akuma wa odoru (Chiezo Kataoka)
1954 Akuma ga kitarite fue o fuku (Chiezo Kataoka)
1954 Yurei otoko a.k.a. Ghost Man (Seizaburô Kawazu)
1956 Mitsu-kubi-tou a.k.a. Three Heads Tower (Chiezo Kataoka)
1956 Kyuketsuki-ga a.k.a. Vampire Moth (Ryo Ikebe)
1961 Akuma no temari-uta (Ken Takakura)

A successful second wave of films in the late 1970's were directed by Kon Ichikawa, starring Koji Ishizaka as Kindaichi. But as you can see below, there are some with different actors playing the role, presumably from rival film studios - it's Roger Moore versus Sean Connery all over again.

Strangely, one of these rival films was also one of the most successful. It was then one of Japan's biggest budgeted productions ever, and was directed by Yoshitaro Nomura - the brilliant Village of Eight Gravestones (1977). This version was updated to contemporary Japan and starred Kiyoshi Atsumi as Kindaichi. I reviewed this epic murder mystery back in April, my review here. This currently available DVD is a rare opportunity to see a Kindaichi film with English subtitles. There will also soon be a Region 3 DVD of The Inugami Family (1976)with English subtitles, details here.

1976 Honjin satsujin jiken a.k.a. Death at an Old Mansion (Akira Nakao)
1976 Inugamike no ichizoku a.k.a. The Inugami Family (Koji Ishizaka)
1977 Akuma no temari-uta a.k.a. The Devil's Bouncing Ball Song (Koji Ishizaka)
1977 Yatsu Haka-Mura a.k.a. Village of Eight Gravestones (Kiyoshi Atsumi)
1977 Gokumon-to a.k.a. Devil's Island (Koji Ishizaka)
1978 Jo-oh-bachi a.k.a. Queen Bee (Koji Ishizaka)
1979 Byoinzaka no kubikukuri no ie a.k.a. The House of Hanging (Koji Ishizaka) 1979 Akuma ga kitarite fue o fuku (Toshiyuki Nishida)
1979 Kindaichi Kosuke no boken a.k.a. The Adventures of Kosuke Kindaichi (Ikko Furuya)
1981 Akuryo-To a.k.a. Akuryo Island (Takeshi Kaga)

Soon after, Ikko Furuya continued to play Kindaichi in a successful run of TV dramas. These series and the movies The House of Hanging and The Adventures of Kosuke Kindaichi are currently available on DVD, but without english subtitles. The latter film actually stars the books' original author Seishi Yokomizo.

Finally, in 1997, Kon Ichikawa finally managed to direct his own version of Village of Eight Gravestones, having missed out on the title back in 1977. Etsushi Toyokawa starred as the detective. But the recent big news is, from Twitch Film, that Kon Ichikawa is going to refilm The Inugami Clan for release in 2007! The director, now 90, has also chosen the original star of the seventies series, Koji Ishizaka, to return to the role of Kindaichi! More details from Twitch here...


Since the latest film, there's also been a steady series of new TV adaptions of the books. No doubt there's been many other TV incarnations in the past, but these are the only ones I've found details on. The current Kindaichi is actor Goro Inagaki, who is very likeable in the role, but again, like the Young Kindaichi series, he's asked to play it a little too broadly - and even has a series of sidekicks whose acting is far less subtle. I know the subject matter is grim, but surely the comedy relief doesn't have to border on slapstick.

This was the first Japanese television drama series to be shot on HD Video, giving the episodes a broader, grander look, with a widescreen aspect. Each mini-series is usually 4 half-hour episodes long. These are the stories that I know of so far...

Inugami ke no Ichizoku (2004) a.k.a. The Inugami Clan
The new series started with an extra half-hour episode describing Kindaichi's back story and his first ever case, in New York! Then it moves onto yet another adaption of The Inugami Clan! It's a similar set-up to Village of Eight Gravestones featuring a serial murder within a big family, the action taking place on their huge estate.

The mystery is complicated by identity of a soldier whose burns are so severe that he has to wear a white skintight mask over his head. One of the victims is found floating in the nearby lake, with it's legs sticking out of the water in a V-shape - an unusual scene, this has become a recurrent, iconic image of all the filmed adaptions.

Yatsuhaka mura (2004) a.k.a. Village of Eight Gravestones
Unlike the 1977 film, this is faithfully set back in the 1940's. The storyline is a little different, with less time spent in the underground labyrinthine caves. But the action is just as bloody, and the samurai flashbacks are dramatic and well staged. Tatsuya Fujiwara (below), the star of Battle Royale and Death Note heads the cast.

Youbachi (2006) a.k.a. Queen Bee
This story is slimmer than the twisty plots of Inugami and Village, but is graced by the presence of Chiaki Kuriyama (Battle Royale, Kill Bill Vol. 1, The Great Yokai War) in the title role.

She looks splendid as a young heiress turned serial killer, committing a string of bludgeoning murders that culminate inside a huge clock tower. Chiaki carries the show in a variety of traditional outfits, and it's one of her biggest roles yet. This feature-length TV movie is out on a Malaysian DVD with (quite poor) english subtitles, see here for details.

Akechi Kogoro vs. Kindaichi Kosuke (2005)
In contrast to the period setting of the current series, this was a feature-length special on TV Asahi, which pits two detectives against each other - well, it's more of a team-up really. Our man Kindaichi is still dressed in his shabby sandals. He stumbles upon a series of executive suicides, as does the dapper Kogoro Akechi - an expert profiler from the pages the novels by Edogawa Rampo (whose many horror novels have also been turned into films, such as the excellent Gemini and the recent Rampo Jigoku ).

The hook is to have two famous fictional detectives onscreen together, the twist is that they're in modern day Japan. So we swap the usual gothic for a high-tech sheen, the latest cars, skyscrapers and even a helicopter. This all makes the production look even more lavish than a lot of modern Japanese cinema. Indeed, movie star Masahiro Matsuoka (the lead in Godzilla Final Wars) plays Akechi, and pop star Tomoya Nagase (psychic Ryuichi in TV's Ring: The Final Chapter) plays Kindaichi.

It's a lush, occasionally bloody murder mystery, shot mostly on location around Japan over the winter months. The accent is on action rather than detection.

It's out on DVD in widescreen, with dodgy english subtitles in Malaysia. It's also on VCD under the title Private Detective Agency.
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If I find any more good references to the screen adventures of Kindaichi, the master sleuth, I'll add them to this page...

Mark H