Posted by Holly
There reaches a point in many horror franchises where the people involved in making the movies just stop caring entirely. This is kind of the great equalizer between long-running horror series, there are always some terrible entries in the later parts of the series, no matter how strong the early entries are. Some of them stop caring relatively early on (A Nightmare on Elm St. 2: Freddy’s Revenge, a personal favorite film of mine), and some of them take a little longer to sputter out.
The Tomie films – a Japanese film series based on Junji Ito’s dark and disturbing manga – have been arguably a mixed bag right from the start, but the series managed to persevere and put out quite a few entries. I’m not sure what the consensus is on when the films stopped trying to scare anyone or take themselves seriously, but I do know this: by the time they reached Tomie: Unlimited, they were entirely out of fucks to give.
Tomie: Unlimited follows Tsukiko, a teenage girl who is traumatized after watching her sister, Tomie, die in a freak accident. Her family greatly mourns her sister’s loss, and she tries to cope with what happened to her. However, things take a strange turn when someone turns up at the door later on claiming to be her dead sister, entirely changing the balance of their home, and giving Tsukiko’s life a turn for the worse.
First of all, the movie can’t possibly be trying to seriously terrify anyone. It reaches levels of camp that would give Army of Darkness a run for its money, and that’s certainly a high bar to set. It’s an exaggeration of a horror film more than it actually attempts to be a horror film. It isn’t going to be scary, have any sense of dread, or really do much to make you sympathize with most of its main characters. Once you accept that fact, you can go about attempting to enjoy the film for what it is.
Unfortunately, what it is doesn’t really do much to satisfy either. What this film could have been, and could have exceled at being, was a campy romp through the Tomie mythos. Instead, it decides to introduce what seems to be an entirely new piece of plot, unrelated to anything I’ve yet seen in the manga (Tomie having a sister and family, implying that she’s more of a normal human girl), but then doing very little with it. It teases you with the idea that it might develop this into something more intriguing for the first half of the film before giving up and going into full camp mode and adding a lot of plot twists that confuse rather than clarify the story.
And while Tomie might not be the right backdrop for a film like this, I didn’t hate the concept entirely. The idea of playing on the rivalry between two sisters, with the more loved and adored one dying, and the guilt and relief the living one feels in her absence is a pretty dark concept. Introduce the prospect of the adored sister being resurrected, and not being quite right when she comes back, and you have some decent ingredients not only for an eerie film, but an interesting examination of a sisterly bond. The characters here, though, are unfortunately too one-dimensional for this to go any further, or take on any real depth in its execution.
Instead, this takes moments that could have explored Tsukiko and Tomie as sisters, and goes for titillation. The bath scene is the most obvious choice here, where Tomie attempts to kiss Tsukiko before being rebuffed. The way this scene plays out borrows more heavily from the interpretation of Tomie as a sexual character, rather than purely an evil character. It is far more effective when the audience sees Tomie use her ability to enthrall men to her advantage against her sister, one of the darker moments being when she encourages their father to whip Tsukiko in front of the entire family.
Tsukiko is also quite weak in her characterization. Throughout the film, it’s difficult to discern what her character arc is supposed to be. Is she jealous of her sister, and felt relief at her death, and so her reappearance brings up all these complicated feelings of even having wanted her sister dead? Did she truly admire her sister, and is disturbed to see her illusion of Tomie shattered with her strange and unnatural emergence? There are very few answers, and Tsukiko remains something of a blank canvas through the whole film.
The effects are… well, when I said it was in competition with Army of Darkness, I wasn’t exaggerating. There are some moments where the low budget effects are almost charming in their weirdness – the giant centipede made out of Tomie heads was a favorite of mine, and I can’t help but envy whoever on set got to bring that monstrosity home. However, most of them are just funny, and you can’t help but wonder if they were meant to be or not. There is a sequence in which there is a headless body with a Tomie tumor growing off of its neck, giving chase to our main character, and it was hard not to be explicitly reminded of a deadite.
Ultimately, I think this film had some interesting goals, but fell short of being much more than an exercise in grotesque camp. The few shining moments it has are few and far between, and will probably leave you feeling a lot more frustrated with the film it could have aimed to be, rather than the one you’re seeing.
Rating: 2 out of 5. Bad storytelling, but has a few moments of being entertaining.
Scariness level: Sub zero? It falls far more into the horror-comedy space than anything, though I’m not certain if that’s an intentional leap.
Violence level: It’s a film about a girl being continuously murdered by the men that admire her, so even on a bad day these are pretty high on the violence scale. This one is no exception – in fact, the opening scene shows someone being skewered pretty severely.
Bechdel test: Passes, but not by much. For a film that focuses so much on the relationship between two sisters, they do talk about men an awful lot.
Mako Mori test: I think this technically passes. Tsukiko’s story is centered around Tomie, and dealing with her return. So while her character arc is weak, and not entirely her own, it’s not supporting a male character’s story.