The Great TOH Junji Ito Read-Off: Tomie
She was dead. She was dead and they mutilated her, they scattered her everywhere. So why—how is it that I see her here right in front of me, smiling?
So we’ve reached the end of the line, and if this is posted before we hit November then I’ve succeeded. For this final article, we’re going to be taking a look into Tomie, the massive tome Ito worked on while he was still a dental technician by day, and which won honorable mention in the first Umezu Awards. Out of what I’ve read by Ito, Tomie is my favorite
It’s gruesome, has some social commentary, and it just oozes a sense of dread.
First, some music to set the mood:
This is a very early work for Ito, and as such you’ll notice that the art seems a lot rougher around the edges in spots than you’ve probably grown used to by now. Remember, he had written an epic-length graphic novel while he was working full time as a dental technician.
The book begins with the aftermath of Tomie’s murder, her friend recounting how she had been hacked to bits, and not all the pieces had been found yet.
note that manga is read from right to left
Just after the funeral, Tomie shows up to class as if nothing had happened, simply apologizing for being late.
like I said, a little rough around the edges
You see, Tomie is an extremely beautiful and flirtatious young woman, the kind men go crazy over. In this case, the man was her homeroom teacher, Mister Takagi. Tomie has exploited Takagi’s forbidden attraction to his young pupil, and after she falls off of a cliff side in what seems to be an unfortunate accident following an argument where she urges him to leave his wife, Takagi ropes his male students into dismembering her body to avoid being caught. Turns out she was still alive while they sawed into her.
After the deed was done, every member of the class was given one piece of Tomie’s corpse to hide. Her own friend was given the heart and pressured into staying silent. After she manages to move away from the town, she finds out Tomie will still be haunting her, and the butchery really, truly wasn’t just a nightmare.
Tomie returning to haunt Takagi and remind him of his crimes has driven him to madness, and he escapes from the hospital where he was being held. In that same hospital we’re introduced to Yukiko, a young girl needing a kidney transplant. One day, after the boy she’s interested in visits her in the hospital, she notices he was acting strangely and later sees him from the window, a beautiful woman in tow.
Later, the same woman shows up in Yukiko’s room, intent on insulting and belittling the poor girl.
The beauty mark below her eye tells you that this is Tomie, and she’s dead set on being as manipulative and destructive as she possibly can.
The thing about Tomie is once she has you trapped with her wiles, you can’t escape. Even Tadashi here ends up falling back into her snare. The other thing about Tomie is that once you have fallen for her, it’s only a matter of time before you’re overcome with urges to stab, tear, and rip her apart. You will destroy and mutilate her, and she will return.
It turns out Tomie was a perfect match to be able to donate a kidney to Yukiko. After her “father” gives permission, Yukiko’s doctor rushes in and goes ahead with the transplant. Of course, it can’t just be that simple and easy. Yukiko starts howling in pain after her transplant, and after an X-ray the surgeons are forced to open the girl back up to see that they really are seeing what they think they are.
Rumors begin to spread through the hospital afterward. Rumors of unscheduled operations, and patients having their organs removed in the middle of the night. And rumors of a kidney that began growing a head and limbs. Rumors that aren’t exactly unfounded as another Ito trope of the greedy and unscrupulous researcher shows up.
A young patient in the hospital sneaks down to where the hospital director has been hiding his Tomie experiments, and when he gets there he finds a beautiful girl sitting naked in a tank.
With Tomie fully regenerated, she returns to Yukiko’s room to torment the poor girl. Fully regenerated, she also ensnares Yukiko’s doctor with her beauty.
Yukiko also begins changing, both in looks and personality—she’s short tempered and manipulative, and she blurts out hurtful things without a second thought.
The wandering Tomie gets taken in by a kind-hearted wealthy family, and at her new school she manipulates a Tsukiko, young photographer who makes her money off of selling candid photos of boys her classmates have crushes on, into taking a bunch of pictures of her, but something is off in every photo.
Tomie’s manipulation has backfired on her now, as the photographer has scattered the photos around school, ruining Tomie’s image of irresistible beauty. Tomie is mad now, and you won’t like it when she’s mad. Tomie’s admirers will do anything for her, even murder.
Tsukiko manages to evade Tomie and her goons, but Tomie later just shows up at her house, henchmen in tow. After the meatheads tie Tsukiko up, the second face Tomie had in the photos is revealed and it orders the two beefy young lads to “cut off the growth,” which just causes the dudes to chop her head off.
Tsukiko wakes up to Tomie’s headless corpse walking around, trying to get out.
Tsukiko manages to save her teacher, Yamazaki, who she happens to have a crush on, from Tomie’s goons, who are still roaming around with violent urges. She brings the fellow back to her house, and Tomie begins calling to him. Remember, when she was murdered, her blood would have soaked into the carpet.
Back at the mansion of the wealthy family that took Tomie in, she is now the rich old man’s “daughter,” and she lures Tsukiko over by saying Yamazaki is hanging out at the mansion. It turns out the old man is actually a researcher and drops a little exposition dump for anyone confused up to this point.
It shouldn’t really surprise anyone that this trap was actually a trap the whole time. It also shouldn’t surprise anyone that these experiments with Tomie ended up producing some terrifying results.
This ends the longest closely-connected arc in the book and from here we go into loosely connected short stories, each of course featuring our dangerously gorgeous villain. “Revenge” shows the unfortunate fate of a trio of mountain climbers/hikers who “save” a poor naked Tomie from freezing to death in the snowy mountains.
“Waterfall Basin” tells the story of a small village whose waterfall begins attracting a flurry of suicides after a crooked con-man (more than likely Takagi from the beginning of the book) drops a bunch of wrapped bundles of Tomie’s flesh into the water.
“Painter” is the chapter that was included as part of Shiver, and tells the story of an up-and-coming artist who ends up leaving his girlfriend after falling for Tomie’s wiles.
In “Assassins,” Tomie manages to convince some poor young fellow to take her into her home, and when she finally expires, to bury her somewhere secluded. Of course he does this, but as soon as he’s done, Tomie starts calling to him from the ground. Afterward, Tomie fanatics start showing up at his home, ready to fight.
“Hair” is the chapter that gets under my skin the most. A young girl finds a box of beautiful hair locked away in her father’s study. Her and her friend find out that when you press the hairs to yourself, they will stay there.
“Adopted Daughter” shows us that Tomie isn’t the only weird thing going on around here. Of course, once Tomie comes into the picture, things turn from weird to gruesome.
In “Little Finger,” the ugliest boy in the world ends up getting into a strange situation where Tomie becomes his hot new stepmom. And of course, while all the men in the house fall for her, it’s the ugly boy who is her true target. After his brothers kill Tomie, he ends up in a real pickle.
“Boy” is just really, really uncomfortable.
“Moromi” shows the most obsessive degree of violence so far, and also features Tomie being brewed into sake.
“Babysitter” has a bratty little Tomie’s heart being babysat by a poor girl who got locked into the room and can’t get out.
In “Gathering,” all the dudes trapped by Tomie’s pull have formed a weird little society, and all start going crazy at the same time while worshipping her.
Now here’s the thing: Tomie hates Tomie. So in “Passing Demon,” when two little girl versions of Tomie run across each other, bad things are in store.
“Fashion Model” pits two narcissists against one another.
But when Tomie’s cuts get infected, her regeneration goes wrong. The erstwhile fashion model ends up tormented by multiple Tomies throwing degrading comments his way, when all’s said and done, he also ends up severely physically deformed.
The fellow from “Fashion Model” actually becomes a bit of a dark hero, his deformation post-Tomie leading him to try and stop her. In “Old and Ugly,” three young Tomies command roving gangs of violent men, each trying to gain dominance over the area.
One of the Tomies manages to move away with her family, and her “sister” ends up in contact with the deformed man. He comes up with a slow-burning plan to halt Tomie and keep her from multiplying. Hopefully it’s enough to stop her for good.
Tomie is a mammoth of a graphic novel, topping out around 750 pages. While it’s easy to tell that Ito was taking his first steps of his horror career, his skill starts developing at an astonishing rate, which is interesting to see as the story gets more twisted. It’s a dark tale of revenge where by the end it’s hard to tell if there really are any “good” characters in this book.
I know there’s a lot more for me to read by Ito, especially now that his work is being pumped out in translation, but this is quite literally everything I’ve read by him so far. May there be many more books by him to come.
Tomie is available in English through VIZ Media.
Banner image by Anton Oxenuk.
Thank you for coming along with me for this ridiculous amount of articles. I hope you enjoyed the ride and I hope you got at least a little interested in Ito’s work and horror books in general. If this was the first article in the series for you, there’s a lot more in store for you.