Tomie Chapter XI : Sexually abused by an unfaithful father. (1200 words)
I’ve recently been introduced to Junji Ito’s work and read his Spiral, Tomie and Gyo. I quite liked them and at first I wanted to write an article about how these three stories seem to revolve around a metaphor but it quickly became clear that just one chapter of Tomie was enough for an article and would be more interesting.
So let’s talk about Tomie’s chapter XI: Hair.
Whether it’d be in Tomie, Gyo or Spiral, the evils that torment humanity are able to do so in numerous different manners. It was a bit unsettling to me that Junji Ito seems to focus on never having Tomie, his Spirals or fish (Gyo) do the same thing, kill or alienate people in the same manner. But it actually draws the outline of the menace (and of the metaphor) even better as if the stories were just the long depiction of one specific trouble.
I wish I could sum Tomie up to one concept like “perfect beauty” or “irresistible sexual attraction” but I can’t. She’s a bit more complex than that. Still, she is a very specific and truly limited evil. She’s not just a random demon that wants to hurt people.
So, I’d say that Tomie embodies a subconscious symbol of the human psyche, on the one hand, but a perverted, alienated, morbid one, on the other.
The symbol that she embodies would be the one of the attractive woman, of the perfect woman or of sexuality. She could be an evil version of Eve for example. An evil, alienated, morbid version of the female libido.
Why the need for the psychoanalytic angle of approach ? Because Tomie’s role changes according to the people she torments while remaining the embodiment of a specific dimension of human psyche.
In chapter XI a high-school girl discovers that her father virtually cheats on her mother. Truly, he only keeps a box of hair of a woman he used to love, but it’s the same thing.
Young women want to be attractive and their idea of their own attractiveness depends on their relationship with their parents. Girls want to be acknowledged as legitimate women by their dads, and as their dads are attracted to their mothers, resembling their mothers seems like a good way to go. This is just a general phenomenon, it’s not important whether it’s a solid rule or not. It’s clearly more complex than that most of the time, culture also clearly plays a strong role in the dynamic. My point here is only that if the father cheats on the mother, he destroys a dynamic on which his daughter’s perception of herself rested upon.
If her father is not truly attracted to her mother, then resembling her mother might not be the right way to go to become attractive, and certainly not to be acknowledged by her dad. Also, and as creepy as it might sound, the daughter can feel cheated on too because if the dad wasn’t satisfied by the mother he could have turned towards her. The taboo of incest doesn’t necessarily protect the girl from feeling rejected.
And so, when a man cheats on his wife, he can make his daughter feel unattractive and like an illegitimate woman.
When Chie finds the father’s former lover’s hair in a box, she immediately thinks that his father has a beautiful mistress; Miki, her unattractive female friend, thinks of the same thing.
Miki can be perceived as an extension of Chie who is now troubled, anxious. She used to think she was normally attractive, or didn’t think about that kind of things, but suddenly a part of herself is convinced that she is not. And that’s Miki. Miki “plugs” Tomie’s hair on her head and then on Chie’s, this is the fear of not being attractive and the desire to look not like her mother but like the mistress that settles inside Chie.
Summer comes and Chie becomes more aware of her sexual desires. Tomie appears to her in a dream in all her beauty.
Tomie here embodies Chie’s young sex drive. Chie wants to be attractive, she dreams of being a beautiful girl but her perception is alienated because of her experience with her father. That’s why it’s Tomie that she admires. In Tomie lies the desire not to be resisted, the desire to have the illusory morbid strength to overcome any obstacle.
Thinking of Tomie becomes a way of escaping the collapse of her parents’ couple. She is trying to reassure herself by associating herself with the father’s mistress and not her mother. She's trying to convince herself that "it won't happen to her."
At school Miki becomes more popular. She’s grown Tomie’s hair, meaning she’s become more sexually available, or more confident. She also talks to Tomie while daydreaming and openly flirts with a teacher through an innuendo. Wearing Tomie’s hair makes her believe her sex-appeal allows her to do anything, like flirting with adults and authority figures.
This lays the ground for Chie’s turning to her own father.
In parallel with Miki’s flourishing, Chie becomes more passive, sleepy.
At home, Chie’s father and her mother finally split up. The mother sadly declares that she’s going back to her mother’s. Because of Tomie’s she undergoes a regression. She could have gone to a friend or to a hotel, making her go back to her mother means that she is leaving the room of the sexuated woman in the house available.
She asks Chie if she’s coming along, her daughter only answers that she’s trying to talk to Tomie. The mother is rejected by both family members for the sake of the morbid perception of female sexuality.
After the mother’s left, Miki appears. Miki is the one who abandoned everything to Tomie’s power. She’s the ugly girl, the side of Chie who feels rejected by her father. She’s brought a whole box of Tomie’s hair for Chie. The daughter is now ready to let herself be swallowed by the fear induced by her father’s cheating on her mother.
The father comes back home, he’s bought sushis for Chie… and is drunk and quit his job too… and his wife’s left him. This is the exact common place setting for sexual abuse.
He enters the room and he, Miki and Chie are reunited for one second. My interpretation is that, truly, it’s only the father and the daughter.
He can choose between focusing on his ill daughter who is trying to resist Tomie’s hair or focusing on the girl who’s wearing Tomie’s hair.
He sadly chooses Miki that which could mean that he sexually abuses his daughter.
Chie wakes up and turns toward the hair in the box left by her friend. She’s vanquished and accepts to become an echo of her father's past mistress.
At this point the temporality of the story becomes incoherent. The mother comes back home, wasn’t she supposed to sleep at her mother’s ? Finds Chie, brings her to a hospital and doctors have time to establish a diagnosis while the father catches up to Miki who is walking away.
These events are presented that way because they’re a metaphor for the rape and its consequences on Chie's psyche. They coincide.
The hair on the face is the alienation of individuality and the fact that they should grow inside Chie’s head is the extension of it. The abused girl is destroyed. It’s the mother’s point of view (that’s why she needed to reappear).
Miki’s conclusion with the father is the abuser's point of view. He realizes that beyond the desire to attract him, there was something deep and structural and that he destroyed his daughter by remaining blind to this fact and allowing himself to act upon his sexual urges.