TAG – Film Review
Director: Sion Sono
Cast: Reina Triendl, Mariko Shinoda, Erina Mano
by Ashleigh Millman
Described upon its initial release in 2015 as ‘arthouse meets grindhouse’, ‘Alice in Wonderland meets Tokyo Gore Police’, and probably most accurately: ‘flash-trash exploitation gorefest and punchy pro-feminist action-fantasy’, TAG is clearly a film of two worlds. Though getting technical, that would be wrong – it’s a film of three.
Opening with scenes that deftly set the tone of the film to come, we start with school girl Mitsuko (Reina Triendl) heading on a trip with her friends to summer camp. That is, until a mysterious wind quite literally tears through their school buses, bisecting all those inside and reducing them to pulpy remains.
Surviving through sheer coincidence (Mitsuko was kneeling down to pick up her pen), and now surrounded by the halved corpses of her friends, she flees for her life through the forest – but not before the wind claims each and every person she encounters along the way.
This in itself would be enough of a premise to base an interesting horror film on, in the vein that The Happening took in 2008. Instead, Sono takes us on a whirlwind through three different, but equally brutal universes that Mitsuko must survive, whether that be as herself, Keiko (Mariko Shinoda), or Izumi (Erina Mano). In each new body, Mitsuko is oblivious to the people around her that claim to have known her all their lives, in a constant state of amnesia as she tries to figure out where she came from, where she is going, and why this is happening to her.
“Tackles gender head on”
Scenarios include a school under machine gun fire from its teachers, a wedding that descends into perverse disarray, and a track run where she must race from bloodthirsty characters crossing through the dimensions. The only constants in each new world are the need to run for her life, best friend Aki (Yuki Sakurai), who offers more information to our distressed protagonist with each challenge the girls face, and the hauntingly relevant echo of ‘life is surreal, don’t let it consume you.’
Interestingly, Sono creates each of these deadly scenarios as worlds populated entirely by women – casting a feminist lens for the film to be viewed through. Combining up skirt shots with gratuitous violence and a bizarrely self-referential ending where we meet the only male characters, TAG is a genre piece that defies – well, it’s genre. It tackles gender head on by simultaneously sexualising and empowering its female leads, potentially duel wielding problematic and pro-feminist readings as each chapter is progressed. TAG has an obvious leering gaze towards its women, but it’s required for its central message to shine through at the end of the movie. An uncomfortably self-aware conundrum.
“Conscious of what it’s achieving”
As for the other elements of the film, whilst effects can sometimes be gimmicky, they work in favour for the over-the-top nature of Sono’s stylistic approach. The actors are superb in each role they are slotted into, with Mitsuko’s shy schoolgirl nature replicated recognisably and impressively through the three actresses that take her on.
All in all, TAG is a bloody mess of a film with a message written in the entrails it leaves behind. It’s silly and a bit much, but entirely conscious of what it’s achieving in being this way. A good piece of horror-fantasy fun that straddles spectacle and narrative, giving you something to think about in the aftermath – even if it isn’t entirely clear in the process.