A girl’s life cascades into chaos as everyone around her suffers a gruesome fate while she becomes less certain of who she is and her once-once normal.
It is not often you see a film that begins with couple of dozen people being cut in half, but with Sian Sono’s surrealist gorefest Tag, that is exactly what you get. It offers a fantastically fast paced thrill ride of curious, blood-soaked action, accompanied by murmurs of feminist themes.
The story takes its inspiration from Yusuke Yamada’s 2001 novel Riaru onigokko in which people that share the same surname get tagged for death by malevolent, unseen forces. Yamada’s novel was already adapted to film in 2008 (Riaru Onigokko or The Chasing World) generating four sequels and a TV-series and it’s important to note that Sono’s take on the story has no affiliation with the previous films. In fact, it is not even an adaptation of Yamada’s novel as such, but a completely separate piece of work that simply borrows the name and some of the larger concepts of the story (i.e. the chase element).
In the centre of this outlandish fantasy is high school student Mitsuko (Reina Triendl) whose life is turned upside down when a school trip is rudely interrupted by a mystical wind that cuts in half the bus she is traveling in, along with all the passengers inside. Mitsuko herself is only saved by a freaky bit of good luck, as she happens to be picking up a pen from the floor right at the very moment when this all occurs. Surrounded by complete utter carnage she runs away with the deadly wind chasing after her, cutting down unsuspecting passers-by along the way. As she returns to her school, she soon finds herself in middle of new nightmare when every single teacher in the building starts to slaughter their pupils en masse. With the help of her friend Aki (Yuki Sakurai), Mitsuko once again escapes, only to be sucked into yet another fever dream of violence. Is she asleep unable to wake up, skipping through alternative realities or just plain going insane? That’s what Mitsuko must find out.
The whole film plays out like a bizarre nightmare with no foreseeable ending. The further into the story you get, the weirder everything becomes. Mitsuko not only hops between realities but also bodies, changing from a carefree schoolgirl, to an unhappy bride, to a stressed out marathon runner, all the while being chased by sinister forces hellbent on killing her and by the looks of it, everyone around her. The meaning of all this will not become apparent until the very end, and even then, it leaves you with more questions than answers.
The gore is plentiful and marvellously executed. You might think that with an opening scene containing numerous dismembered bodies would be impossible to live up to, but somehow Tag manages to keep up that same vigour all throughout the film. People get attacked by giant alligators, by pig-headed bridegrooms and have half of their heads blown off by vicious teachers on a rampage. All of this is done with copious amounts of blood, but also with an element of surprise; even though you will fully expect something weird to happen, Sono’s brilliantly choreographed pacing makes sure that you will still jump out of your seat when that next shock hits the screen.
It’s easy to watch Tag just as a piece of fun, gore filled entertainment and perhaps, that is all it is. However, it is nearly impossible to ignore the fact that nearly all of film’s running time is taken up by all female cast and when men are finally introduced to the story, it is in a context that seems to hint something about patriarchal power structures, as well the roles that young women are often forced into in society. Whether this was Sono’s intent, I have no clue, but it certainly leaves a lot to think about and makes a film that could otherwise be just another gorefest, a bit more intriguing.
Tag is fantastic watch for any Sono Fans, as well as any general gore hounds out there. It is bloody for sure, but also a lot of fun. You can watch it simply for the mindless violence or try to delve into the deeper themes of the story. Either way, it is sure to entertain.