One of the most surprising, bloodiest, and surreal pro-feminist films you will see this year, Sion Sono’s Tag is a sight to behold. An action-fantasy that is unlike any other, it is a film whose brilliance does not reveal itself at first. If one was to go solely on Tag’s jaw-dropping opening set piece it would be easy to write-off the film as a relentlessly giddy Japanese gorefest. It is a film where even Mother Nature takes pleasure in severing limbs and blowing up school girl’s skirts with equal gusto.
It is only as Sono’s fever dream of excesses and carnage progresses does his deeper intentions become clear.
Loosely based on Yusuke Yamada’s 2001 novel, Real Onigokko, the film follows Mitsuko (Reina Triendl) as she travels down the rabbit hole of physical and psychological terror after surviving a brutal incident that kills her fellow classmates. Hunted by an unknown evil travelling in the wind, Mitsuko manages to evade the nefarious force, which literally cuts down any innocent civilians in its path, and make it back to her school. There she is stunned to see her best friend Aki (Yuki Sakurai), and the rest of her class, alive and well. The sight of her closest friends causes Mitsuko to wonder whether she dreamed the horrific event, or if she is in fact having a nervous breakdown.
After another rash of strange violence causes Mitsuko to flee, she finds herself in a new town completely full of women. To her surprise, she has transformed into Keiko (Mariko Shinoda), a young bride whose groom does not turn out to be what she expected. As bloodshed once again erupts, some of which is caused by Keiko’s own lethal hands, the young woman finds herself once again with a new face. Aptly morphing into a runner named Izumi (Erina Mano), she must figure out what is causing this nightmarish series of events.
Filled to the brim with a cavalcade of cartoonish violence, complete with teachers unleashing their oversized machine guns on unsuspecting students, Sion Sono’s constructs a film that truly lives up to its motto “life is surreal, don’t let it consume you.” Believing that the only way to break the surreal nature of life is to do the unexpected, the prolific director frequently keeps the audience off-guard. The most surprising aspect being the gender commentary that Sono weaves into every fabric of the film.
It is not until Keiko gazes upon the horrific sight of her groom, a pig-man, that the lack of men in the film sinks in for the audience. The few male characters that appear represent the worst in man. Similar to the pig-man, the physical personification of their oppressive nature, the men in Sono’s film see women as mere objects for their desire. Though it may sound odd that such a pointed assessment of gender politics would be firmly ingrained in a film as over-the-top as this, it works swimmingly.
By essentially showcasing three different ways in which Japanese women are placed in submissive positions within society, Sono adds a nice layer of substance to his orgy of mayhem. Of course, those merely looking to let the surreal level of blood and action wash over them will find much to enjoy as well. Never one to offer a dull moment, Sion Sono’s Tag is an entertaining, and surreal, experience that audiences won’t soon forget.
Thursday, October 22, 7 PM, Scotiabank Theatre
Tickets can be purchased at the Toronto After Dark website.