A surreal and gory Japanese schoolgirl horror film with an implicit feminist line, Tag manages to be hysterical and shrill, ultra-violent but also plaintive and sombre.
Mitsuko (Triendl) is on a coach tour with her classmates when something very horrible happens. The sole survivor, she starts running. She runs into some high school girls who seem to know her, although she has no memory of them; then they are attacked and Mitsuko is running again. Then Mitsuko suddenly turns into Keiko (Shinoda) a young bride-to-be, being chased by a groom with a pig’s head. In the name of white panty flash, what is going on?
Tag may look pretty dodgy and pervy to the uninitiated, but prolific director Sion Sono has made a highly emotionally charged film that has narrative and tonal resonances with his 2001 cult hit Suicide Club. Of course, back then everyone thought that film was dodgy and pervy.
In Tag too, yes, there are over-school age actors playing school girls; and yes, there are plenty of flashes of white panties. But frankly that’s just the genre: there’s undoubtedly a Japanese word for non-porn films about Japanese schoolgirls.
Take the panty flashes and gore as given and it’s the tonal shifts that most impress here, each one of them presented as emotionally valid. You certainly feel the confusion and trauma of the ever-changing heroine. There are kitschy, sentimental moments and there are frenzied moments of terror. For the viewer, sometimes it’s only the Mogadon-ed post-rock soundtrack by Mono that keeps the anxiety at bay. Poor Mitsuko/Keiko – she doesn’t even have that!
Tag uses hyper-kinetic shots and hysterical responses from the actors to surpass the tropes and clichés of the horror film genre, reaching towards something that is ill-defined but felt and imperative. Is it empathy for every young woman mistreated by men because of the fictive representations of her gender and sexuality?
Sono is too aware of the game he is playing to insist on this empathy but you’d have to be a monster not to feel it.
Tag is out in a dual format edition on 20 November.