Directed by Sion Sono.
Starring Reina Trendl, Mariko Shinoda and Erina Mano.
Mitsuko, a normal, average schoolgirl, experiences extreme situations that lead her to question her own reality.
That plot synopsis of Tag above is simply a decent guess. Director Sion Sono has already directed six films this year, with a seventh in pre-production. Tag seems like he dropped the scripts for his next six on the floor, picked up the pieces without putting them back in order and decided to film it.
It’s a film that is sure to become popular among Sono fans. But those who have stumbled into his work, most notably Why Don’t You Play in Hell and the epic Love Exposure, will find their patience strained and wonder what they saw in Sono at all.
Opening with one of the most ridiculously violent scenes you’ll ever see in a film this year, the film follows Mitsuko, who is convinced that a mysterious entity – or a gust of wind, depending on who you ask – is wiping out people everywhere while trying to kill her. Escaping the first encounter, she washes the blood off of her clothes, puts on a clean shirt and heads to school. Obviously distraught, her friends decide to cheer her up, ditching class and playing the by the river. One of her friends, known as Surreal, poses the question that her encounter this morning was simply one of many different realities and the only way to get back to the ‘real’ one is to do something spontaneous.
Cue increasingly ridiculous scenes as Mitsuko appears in different realities for some reason, with a steady stream of ultra violence always close behind. While this makes for some interesting shots – schoolgirls running across the school yard, while the teacher’s fire grenades and fire machine guns at them – it’s difficult to actually care about Mitsuko’s situation.
The film hides its answers from us through Surreal, who constantly tells us, and Mitsuko, that we should just ‘let it go’. Unfortunately, when we’re refused the stakes and don’t really know what’s going on, it’s difficult for the audience to care.
Obviously inspired by video games, there are no consequences to any of her actions – what if Mitsuko was butchered by the pig-headed bridegroom? What if she fell was she was being bombarded by grenades from her teachers? Who is Mitsuko? What is going on?
Usually, when Japanese cinema takes a turn for the crazy, it’s got a good enough reason. Sono’s own Love Exposure, a four-hour epic about a guy who takes photos of women’s underwear, became a treatment on love and relationships in the online age, for example. Tag, on the other hand, spoon feeds us crazy stuff and expects the audience to just accept it. At just less than 90 minutes, it’s hardly an ordeal, but it’s easy to be bored by just how numb and dull it all seems – but maybe that’s the point. And when an explanation eventually does come, it’s just too little, too late. Had they set that up towards the middle, rather than bombard us with exposition towards the end, it might be forgivable. But it just turns into ‘What…that’s it?’ and you leave the theatre wondering why you’ve just wasted your time watching Tag.
Sono fans will defend this film as an ‘experience’ and watch it over and over again to truly understand what it’s about. They’ll probably be going into Tag expecting that, rather than something like Why Don’t You Play in Hell. Much like Tokyo Tribe, Sono’s hip-hop musical from last year, Tag is a failed experiment in exploitation. It’s a dull, boring mess of a film that ultimately means nothing. It could be said that many just won’t get it. But…is there really anything to get?
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ / Movie: ★