Tag (2015) Review

"Tag" Japanese Theatrical Poster

“Tag” Japanese Theatrical Poster

Director: Sion Sono
Writer: Yusuke Yamada, Sion Sono
Cast: Reina Triendl, Mariko Shinoda, Erina Mano, Yuki Sakurai, Maryjun Takahashi, Sayaka Isoyama, Aki Hiraoka, Ami Tomite, Mika Akizuki, Makoto Kikuchi
Running Time: 85 min.

By Z Ravas

In 2015, Takashi Miike, a filmmaker known for his ceaseless work ethic, eased his output to a relaxed –  by his standards – two movies a year. For his part, Love Exposure and Cold Fish director Sion Sono seemed determined to pick up the slack. That same year, Sion saw his name attached to no less than six – count ’em, six! – features. While some critics have accused the Japanese auteur, known for his commitment to extreme cinema, of spreading himself a little too thin, I imagine that most die-hard Sono fans will find plenty to enjoy with 2015’s Tag.

Likely owing to its slick, commercial visuals and winsome cast of Japanese schoolgirls, Tag is one of the few recent Sion Sono movies to achieve wide distribution in North America; in fact, you can even queue it up on Netflix. The plot, based on a novel by Yusuke Yamada, is about a Japanese teenager named Mitsuko who finds herself trapped in the day from hell, almost like Bill Murray in a plaid skirt (how’s that for a visual?). On a school field trip, she is forced to watch as a mysteriously violent wind slices her schoolmates in half – and that’s before the ten minute mark! Things only grow stranger from there as a desperate and on-the-run Mitsuko joins up with a group of young strangers who insist she’s been their beloved classmate all along. Soon enough, Mitsuko finds herself in a fight for her life against powerful, reality-hopping forces… and fight she will.

To say much more beyond that would spoil the fun, though rest assured plenty of bullets are fired and bodies split in half before the credits roll. The plot, as wild and careening as it is, seems to take liberal influence from mind-bending storylines like The Matrix and Total Recall, as well as the generous schoolgirl body count of Battle Royale. But there’s also a surprisingly tender romance/friendship at play between Mitsuko and her newfound classmate Aki, the kind that wouldn’t be out of place in a well-done indie drama, and the dream-like atmosphere of the entire production is aided greatly by Sion Sono’s liberal use of the 11-minute instrumental post-rock song “Pure as Snow (Trails of the Winter Storm)” by Japanese band MONO.

If Tag has a weakness, it’s in its stop-and-start pacing. The movie doesn’t seem to have much of a story to tell once Mitsuko figures out what’s behind her sudden Alice in Wonderland-like existence, as though the tale is all wind-up and no pitch. As such, there are times when it feels like Sion Sono is spinning his wheels in order to ensure the film’s runtime hits the measly 85 minute mark – perhaps most noticeable during the myriad of sequences in which Mitsuko fearfully runs away from the wind as though she’s starring in a Japanese schoolgirl remake of The Happening.

Despite some admitted lulls, Tag’s highs are just about as deliriously high as anything in Sion Sono’s oeuvre. Fans of the filmmaker should know what they’re in for – and know that they’re in for a good, wild time. He’s one of the few living directors who could dream up a scene in which a pig-headed man jump-kicks a marathon-runner, and have it entirely make sense in the context of the plot. Tag appears to want to say something about the nature in which women, particularly young women, are exploited by the Japanese entertainment industry for the pleasure of a male populace… but mostly it’s another launchpad for Sono’s delirious imagination, and in that regard it does not disappoint.

Z Ravas’ Rating: 7.5/10

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