Tomie is the kind of girl you don’t take home to mama. If you’re lucky, you won’t lay eyes on her at all. She is a pretty, young girl that inspires obsession in everyone that sees her, inspiring madness, suicide, and her own murder. But she keeps coming back, wreaking chaos in the lives of everyone she meets.
Tomei, Volume I is a collection of the first six Tomie stories by Junji Ito. Ito is a master of the horror manga genre, author of three aclaimed series, Uzumake, Gyu, and Tomie, which spawned a series of movies, running nine strong. Volume I is a collection of interwoven tales, spiralling around Tomie. It is drawn in a super clean, clear, and crisp black and white style, with lines that will cut you, which makes Ito’s horrors carve themselves that much more clearly into your memory, like scalpels.
Tomie is not a regular girl. She may not even be a girl at all (there’s a chance she could be some sort of plant thing). She’s like some sort of cross between Sadako from Ringu and a Mean Girl. The other girls at school don’t like her, and the boys become obsessed with her. Obsessed enough to kill for her. And eventually obsessed enough to kill her.
The volume begins with the first story, “Tomie”, and a young girl’s brutal murder. She’s been cut up into tiny pieces, and spread around town. Panic strikes the following day when she comes back to school the next day (or some time later) as if nothing has happened, and all the people who had something to do with her death begin to break down.
It turns out that Tomie’s been sleeping with one of the teachers, Mr. Takagi, and she tries to blackmail him into marrying her after high school by telling him she is pregnant with his child. During a school field trip, another student who has a thing for Tomie, Yamamoto, catches her with the teacher, and an argument breaks out, during which Tomie falls off a cliff, and is killed. Mr. Takagi sends the girl students home, and proceeds to hacksaw the body into small pieces with the boy students, making them accomplices to murder.
I don’t mean to be so graphic or gruesome, just giving you an idea of what you’re in for, in these 250 pages of lean, mean b&w horrorshow. Comics are not known for being truly horrific, or, let’s say, it’s a niche market. It comes as a shock to see the fine-lined hacksaw being applied to an ankle, like some Hitchcock villain, in a Sunday paper. Tomie seems to evoke the feeling of the earlier, classic creep books like Tales From The Crypt and Secrets Of Haunted House, which it then proceeds to twist and mutilate, leaving your subconscious frayed and distraught.
There is something unsettling in the figure of Tomie, the ultimate embodiment of lust, neediness, jealousy. She’s the x-girlfriend from hell, basically. But she’s a pretty young girl, the embodiment of innocence, so to see a crowd of them, identical, with all white eyes, tap dances on your amygdala.
Because Tomie doesn’t stay dead. She returns to school as if nothing has happened. One of the accomplices believe she is some kind of ghost, and resolves to turn themselves in to the police, but the other accomplices don’t want him to. The other accomplices resolve to kill him. Two of the boys become obsessed, degenerating into slit-eyed stoolies, ready to kill at her command. Yamamoto goes crazy. Things end badly for everybody.
At the end of “Tomie”, it seems to suggest that Tomie regenerates from parts of her self, with each part becoming a whole new girl, quickly becoming a legion.
“Tomie” sets the stage for the 5 tales to follow, all of which are woven together, in a loose web of causality. Tomie spreads from town to town, following her victims, spreading her influence.
Photograph: There is a girl named Tsukiko, in the Photo Club. She sells pictures of people, mostly boys the girls have crushes on, at exorbitant prices. She meets Tomie, who has recently transferred to her school, and is a member of the Public Morality Committee. She busts Tsukiko for selling pictures, and Tsukiko retaliates by taking a bunch of pictures of her. When she develops the film, Tomie’s true form is revealed, in grotesque doppelganger ghostly masks, superimposed over Tomie’s face.
From here on it, thinks begin to get more and more twisted, as new virulent mutations of the girl’s form pop up in each successive tale.
Kiss: With the girl reborn from a puddle of her own blood, clawing out of the carpet to claim her love.
Mansion, my personal favorite, and a horror comic silver star: Tomie picks up Tsukiko on the side of a road, (after having already been killed several times, and destroying countless lives), and takes her to a dark, sprawling Gothic mansion, where she introduces her to her “father”. I put that in quotation marks, because it’s not really her father. She and this un-named gent invaded this home (in a scene that was intimated at earlier, I think), locking the rightful owner in a cage on the top floor, and conducted experiments with Tomie’s spoor-blood on his daughter, transforming her into a giant worm-snake-girl creature that is truly awe-some, and awful, a true pinnacle of the horror comic medium.
I don’t want to give too much away, as you should experience the dark delights for yourself, so I’ll dispense with the spoilers. I just wanted to give you a taste of what was in store, in Junji Ito’s dark genius.
The final two stories are:
Basin Of The Waterfall
I found this collection to be kind of confusing and hard to follow at first, not sure if the stories were supposed to be chronological or not, but I was beguiled enough by the artwork (which is truly stunning and macabre) to keep going. I had a hard time keeping the characters straight, as I sometimes have a hard time remembering Japanese names, I’m sorry to say. I really enjoyed going back and re-reading the thing, after I knew who everybody was, and it helped to clear up the story.
Any confusion was worth it for the incidental moments of surreal madness. Body horrors galore!
Tomie’s an interesting character, and a troubling one. She is the embodiment of the worst qualities of women, which is something most creators wouldn’t touch with a ten foot pole. But Ito digs right in, fleshes her out, and makes her real, and terrifying. Some readers have accused the comic of being sexist, of being yet another attempt at patriarchy to sexualize and then murder the girl of their desires. Because, oftentimes, the men who end up falling in love with her, end up killing her. Ito truly delves into some gnarled, forbidden territory and digs up some dark earth, that is fertile and terrifying.
I was resistant to Asian horror of all kinds, for a long time. I’m not entirely sure why. Perhaps I felt it was being forced on me? So, even though I’ve seen nearly every English-speaking horror movie in existence, I still shied away from Dark Waters or Sick Nurses. But lately, my girlfriend, who is a comic book and visual artist, has been turning me on to some great anime and manga, and I have finally been able to crack into that culture, and start to explore.
This is necessary, and great news for all horror afficianadoes, as there is a huge, rich vein of black blood there. Junji Ito is a great place to start, and not only is it getting me into manga, it has re-kindled my enthusiasm for comics, as a medium, which is a long and storied and romance.
So expect to hear more about dark comics, manga, and anime, in the near-ish future, along with other ramblings about the many manifestations of horror.