June 02, 2006

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

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