Tag (Japan 2015)

Rating: ***
Review Date: 8/26/18
Director: Sion Sono
Cast: Reina Triendl, Mariko Shinoda, Erina Mano, Yuki Sakurai

"Stay strong. Life is surreal. Don't let it consume you."

Mitsuko (Reina Triendl) is a quiet and shy high school student going on a field trip with her classmates when a violent windstorm comes along and kills everyone but her. Terrified, she runs through a forest to escape and changes into a clean uniform that she takes from a dead girl. She emerges at a school that she doesn't recognize, and all of her friends are alive and wearing the same uniform that she is. Was it all just a bad dream? She seemingly has amnesia, and her best friend Aki (Yuki Sakurai) does her best to try and calm her down and show her around. After some philosophizing about destiny, fate, and alternate realities, Mitsuko's world gets turned upside down again when her teachers go on a rampage. Somehow, there's an indication that Mitsuko is responsible for the carnage, and things continue to get more surreal and out of hand as the film progresses.

It's an incomprehensible film that's as fascinating as it is bizarre. The actresses are very captivating and do an excellent job with the physically and emotionally challenging material. They spend a great deal of time running, which is very impressive. I don't think I've ever seen a movie with so much running in it. Reina Triendl has a very unique look that perfectly matches the offbeat tone of the film. Her childish face conveys an interesting combination of innocent wonder, bewilderment, sadness, and terror, while her dangerously lanky frame and big feet make her appear like an awkward pre-adolescent when compared to her peers. Perhaps that's symbolic of her character's arrested development? Yuki Sakurai is extremely charming and has a wonderfully disarming smile, and Erina Mano is radiantly pretty.

It's a good looking and well-lit film for the most part, but the CGI visual effects are a bit lacking. Digital blood is prevalent throughout the film and looks awful. Continuity is also a concern, especially in the film's opening sequence. Mitsuko's hair changes multiple times between shots, and the blood spatters on her face are noticeably inconsistent. Some of the chase scenes and aerial long shots also seem a bit off. The cinematography tends to be voyeuristic and a bit fetishistic, which is most likely related to having a nearly all-female cast. But you shouldn't let the production issues trip you up, because it's the compelling story that deserves the most attention.

WARNING: Spoilers ahead! It's best to go into this film without any prior knowledge of it, so continue reading at your own peril...

"Tag" is a mesmerizing film that makes no sense whatsoever, but is still compelling enough to make you keep watching it. The outrageous opening sequence is both horrific and absurd, and while the amnesia hook is interesting, it still doesn't feel right. The following discussions of multiple realities and altering one's fate through spontaneous action are intriguing, and it makes you wonder if the boundaries between simultaneous realities have been compromised. But then the film introduces the possibility of multiple personalities. As Mitsuko escapes the school, her appearance changes and she becomes a young woman named Keiko who is about to get married. Her friends and classmates are there, but in different roles. So is the story about the traumatic journey into womanhood? And what about all of the running? Does Mitsuko represent Keiko's childhood and how she's desperately trying to run away from adult responsibilities and her present situation? Up until this point, an hour into the movie, there has not been a single male character or extra ANYWHERE in the film (which is fascinating), and when the bridegroom shows up (in a coffin, no less), he has a hideous boar's head. Does this horror represent Keiko's repressed sexuality and society's expectations of her, as there were definitely allusions to lesbianism with Aki earlier in the film? Aki is the only one who hints that something deeper is going on, and she rescues Keiko from her demented and surreal wedding. As Keiko runs from one horror to the next, she actually becomes a marathon runner named Izumi (Erina Mano). A-ha! So is this who Mitsuko has been all along? Flashbacks to elementary school show Izumi running and training with her friends, and this is her big race. Is everything just a hallucination or a metaphor for fractured mental health? Her friends urge her to stay focused and not get distracted, but it's not long before Keiko's groom and Mitsuko's psychotic teachers come chasing after her.

At this point, the final twist is revealed. Mitsuko is actually a character in a video game, but with Aki's help, she somehow manages to escape into the real world - or perhaps another alternate reality? This new world is completely populated with perverted men and is appropriately named "Mens World." Evidently, Mitsuko died as a teenager many years ago and her childhood sweetheart cloned her and her friends using DNA samples. He somehow built an entire entertainment empire around her, and now as the ultimate fulfillment of his dream, we wants the clone of his younger self to bed the understandably confused and completely terrified Mitsuko. In her final act of spontaneity, Mitsuko realizes that the only escape from all of her insane realities is to commit suicide, which frees her and her friends from further exploitation. Or something like that. It's all very strange and open to interpretation. The resolution (or lack thereof) is very open-ended and very typical of Japanese cinema. Is it a thought-provoking commentary on society, or is it simply just a twisted fetishistic fantasy that defies logical conventions? Regardless, if you like weird and bizarre Asian sci-fi horror movies, "Tag" is definitely worth seeking out.