When watching any film by Japanese filmmaker Sion Sono, it is safe to say no two films are ever the same. He can turn his hand to all forms of genre cinema and yet doesn’t conform to any. From his last, gang rap musical in Tokyo Tribe to the gritty noirish neon of Guilty of Romance through his masterpiece, the epic romantic opera Love Exposure to the wonderfully weird hirsute horror Exte, one is always guaranteed an aural and visual experience of radical proportions and Tag, which would make an excellent companion piece to Sono’s 2001 feature Suicide Club, is no different.
Opening on the road with two coaches full of schoolgirls on a class trip all – except Mitsuko (Reina Trendl) who’s writing poetry in her journal – engage in a playful pillow fight as girls are prone to, apparently (it also sets up the recurring motif of falling feathers). A supernatural event then leaves her as the only survivor and she’s stranded with only her legs to carry her. This invisible perpetrator chases her to a lake, leaving more victims in its wake, where Mitsuko can wash off the majority of the blood spatter covering her stark white school uniform. She replaces the outfit with a second variant of a uniform and takes refuge in another all-girls school where everyone seems to know her despite never being there before. It isn’t long before death and chaos follows Mitsuko and she is, once again, on the run to the next reality and the next uniform, this time with a different face as she races to survive.
Tag offers up some interesting and philosophical musings about life, death and destiny as Mitsuko (in a couple of guises) spends the majority of the film running away yet, towards something. Participating in the human race has us all running from/towards death and experiencing the absurdity of life; a concept which is taken very literally here but then, thankfully, subtlety has never been Sono’s forte when combining his arthouse sensibilities with bloody action and horror. Yet, this film seems to take some cues from mainstream culture like Alice in Wonderland via seventies comedy horror classic, House.
Keeping the cast predominately women until the very end leads us through a womanhood of sorts: adolescence, love, laughter, and freedom to marriage when everything, or so it appears, ceases – the Groom with the animal head who resides in a black coffin certainly signifies as much – cue more carnage. This then culminates to a meta end and one which can also be read as a deliberate and timely response to the GamerGate controversy. However, as Mitsuko battles the new realities and does finally enter The Male World, it all goes way beyond a 2014 harassment campaign. It’s a largely silent and grim place where, surprisingly, women are decorative objects and all for the playing pleasure of a wizened old man (astutely cast Japanese heartthrob Takumi Saito under convincing prosthetics). He is the personification of patriarchy bending the world to his will, playing with his dolls and twisting reality to suit.
Tag, (inspired by Yusuke Yamada’s Riaru Onigokko) is a highly intelligent and exhilarating ride. The creativity and aesthetic of Sono is the driving force behind this provocative and surreal little tale. It is a bloody riot yet beautiful in its macabre weirdness, not least in those first five minutes – only in something so very artificial and unconventional can reality resonate even louder. It is a shame that there are no extras on the disc as a featurette or director commentary could shed more light on the inspiration for it, however, the not knowing is also what makes Tag such a pleasing experience. You, just like Mitsuko, get to choose and decide its fate.