It’s the classic love story. Boy meets girl. Boy falls in love with girl. Boy and girl get married and punch out 2.5 kids. With Japanese ho...

Tomie Makes it Hurt So Good

It’s the classic love story. Boy meets girl. Boy falls in love with girl. Boy and girl get married and punch out 2.5 kids. With Japanese horror, nothing is ever that simple.

In Tomie (1999), boy meets girl. Boy falls in love with girl. Boy falls into a homicidal rage and kills girl as well as other men who have fallen under her spell. Boy hacks girl to pieces and disposes of the body. Girl regenerates from a single body part and looks for new victims to carry out the same grisly pattern.

This is the premise of Tomie, the story of a school girl/demon who returns from the dead to inspire others to murder her in the most violent ways possible. Talk about a masochistic complex. The idea is fascinating and a little more than disturbing, a serial victim instead of your garden variety serial killer. Score one for director Ataru Oikawa.

The opening scene is a subtle punch to the gut. A mousy looking boy dressed in a baseball cap trolls the crowded streets of a city like Tokyo. Suddenly, a passerby slams into him. The moment is abrupt, accented by the jarring soundtrack. The man continues on his way, going back to chatting on his cell phone and melding into the crowd.

The boy however stops and examines the contents of his bag. The outer bag, made of laminated paper, falls away to reveal a white plastic bag with a tear down the side. The camera zooms in to show the contents of the bag. We see part of a girl’s face, the eye. Suddenly the lid opens, staring at the viewer with a demonic, multi-colored yellow and red eye.

The movie then begins following Tsukiko, a young girl living with her boyfriend in a second floor apartment. Tsukiko is just your average girl. Friendly, open, a little naïve at times, but her happy exterior is hiding dark secrets. She attends therapy regularly in hopes of recovering the absent memories of a recent traumatic event. What this event is no one will say, but Tsukiko’s mother has transferred her to another school and told her daughter that it was a car crash. Tsukiko’s hypnotherapist is charged with bringing these lost memories to light.

But these lost memories are not Tsukiko’s only problem. The aforementioned boyfriend is a douche who is cheating on Tsukiko with her best friend and an investigator pays a visit to Tsukiko’s therapist, looking for answers in the unexplained deaths of Tsukiko’s classmates. Then there is the titular threat, Tomie, the regenerated monster who comes back to take revenge on Tsukiko for telling the entire school she was a bakemono, or demon.

The relationship between Tomie, Tsukiko and the errant boyfriend reminds me of an inversion of Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick’s homosocial triangle. Sedgwick theorized that due to the oppressive environment in 19th century England, the manifestation of male-male desire could only exist if detoured through a female figure. Sedgwick clarifies these homosocial bonds are not homosexual, but can encompass relationships of that nature as well.

I theorize the same system is at work in Tomie. It seems like the boyfriend is merely an excuse for Tsukiko and Tomie, the ultimate BFFs, to be together. Tomie is able to get to Tsukiko through the boyfriend, as she seduces him into kidnapping and then murder. This intense girl on girl devotion can be seen when the two share an onscreen kiss that stirs memories of the all-girl relationship depicted in Memento Mori.

But this interpretation is complicated by the film’s ending scenes. In what appears to be a green-tinged dream sequence—this scene does occur after Tomie’s body stubbornly rises from the dead much to Tsukiko’s horror—Tomie flat out tells Tsukiko, “I am you”, in a Romero-esque bit of dialogue. This sequence ends with some child-like, but terrifying laughter on the part of both girls, and Tsukiko setting Tomie on fire with a road flair.

Cut to black.

We are now back with Tsukiko as the camera pans and zooms in on her everyday life, the life of a normal adolescent girl living in the city. All is well until Tsukiko notices that Tomie’s signature mole (a small speck that sits below Tomie’s right eye) is now on her face! This dermatological switch reinforces the “I am you” statement Tomie has made earlier, and the film ends with Tomie’s reflection emerging behind Tsukiko’s in the mirror.

Best Friends Forever.


  1. Scholar,

    I saw 'Tomie' a while back, after flipping through the manga of the same name that inspired the film(s). It is a disturbing premise, and a creepy little film. Good observations and review.

  2. Tomie is a strange and wonderful film but if you get the chance to read the Manga please do so. Junji Ito's work is great.

  3. Hey Al,

    I'm doing a JHorror independent study this semester and one of the students in the class with me is going to bring the manga. So excited!