by Agent Alicia Glass (a.k.a. Pandora the Punctuation Horror)
Briefly summing up the film’s plot in a small paragraph is actually very difficult, so what we will say is that a schoolgirl on a field trip begins encountering strange phenomena that convince her more and more she’s not real.
Okay, even with the weird-ass explanation chapter at the end of the film, this is a difficult one for the average movie-goer to get. Some sequences are almost dream-like, while others have the happy slaughter of a Takashi Miite movie feel to them, and then of course there are some scenes that are almost impossible to fathom at all. The pig-faced demon groom throws me for a loop, what can I say. You’ve been duly warned, this is an incredibly weird, wild ride. But we will attempt to dive headlong into Sion Sono’s Tag, and discover what his apparent obsession with schoolgirl slaughter is, already.
To begin with, we have pretty little Mitsuko. She, like her raucous classmates, is on a bus headed for a hotel with, it’s a pretty safe bet, hot springs. Mitsuko is a little more reflective than her friends, and she gently blows away the pillowcase feathers of her play-fighting comrades off her poetry journal. Only a dropped pen saves her from an Evil Dead-style demon wind execution, one that takes out the entire bus, the other bus, the bikers and hikers, and just for an encore, the nearby telephone wires. And Mitsuko does what she apparently does best, which is to take off running.
Best friend Aki catches up with Mitsuko and just latches on for dear life, joyfully taking her friend’s shaken mind off what she thought she saw with a little class-skipping action. They bring along the girl Sur, short for ‘surreal’ because she apparently is. Sur pontificates about ripples and changing one’s fate by doing the unexpected. This, along with the almost-constant presence of Aki, seem to be key points in the movie, giving the chaos some semi-balance of plot to attempt to follow.
At this point we’ve gone off into some rather wacky territory, where the teachers are attempting to kill the entire schoolgirl student body, and, for some reason, Mitsuko in particular, with all kinds of forbidden hardware.. What can Aki do but distract them while she screams for Mitsuko to run!
But now, everything is very different. The scenery has completely changed, Mitsuko has a job and a different face and a new name, Keiko, and holy crap, we have to go, Keiko-chan’s about to get married!
Okay, sure, but … well, that’s not like any pre-wedding girlie prep I’ve ever attended. And what’s with the all-girl audience who turn into strippers? (I’m not actually kidding, and that’s the mild part of the wedding scene.) Do something unexpected and change your fate, Sur said. Certainly, no one expected Keiko-chan to go all Bride from Kill Bill on all of them with a broken bottle.
A blink, a flash, something, and we’re now running a race, with another different name and face. Izumi’s whole thing is running, apparently, her friends all reminisce about running everywhere as they grew up together, as they run beside her. Izumi-chan is being chased by the pig-faced demon from the previous face. Certain themes are beginning to bleed into each other and despite the occasional, incredibly zany visual, you remember that yes there is an underlying story being told here.
So, here we are at what may be the actual truth, with one last door left to open. Mitsuko-chan is just exhausted and confused and petrified, and it just gets worse when she hears she literally has to go through Aki-chan to get through that door.
I’m not going to spoil the ending, that would do director Sion Sono (who gave us Tokyo Tribe and Strange Circus, among many other Japanese film gems) a large injustice. I will say that it seemed like there was a small attempt at a Bladerunner feel towards the end, and that was an unexpected turn. Sono skillfully gives three important moments in a girl’s life – her carefree middle teenage years with her girlfriends, her fairy-tale wedding of course, and the first time she won any sort of large competition – and infuses them with manic energy while somehow getting his story across at the same time.
In the end, it was a totally weird movie, gigantic and frantic and lovely at parts, and while not for the casual stab at J-Horror, Tag manages to be an enjoyable romp of schoolgirl slaughter!
Horrible Imaginings Film Festival 2016 was justifiably proud of being the California premiere of Sion Sono’s ‘Tag’, at the Museum of Photographic Arts in Balboa Park!