Written by Yûsuke Yamada
Directed by Sion Sono
Delivering a brisk and fast-paced action comedy about the nature of reality, Sion Sono’s Tag stands out as among the best films so far this year. Sion Sono has never been a stranger to pushing boundaries – his films have consistently tackled taboo subjects through the gauze of the unreal. His most famous works operate on the tone of hysteria, as emotions and actions are amplified to create a surreal and fantastical landscape.
Tag begins as Mitsuko (Reina Triendl) and her class are riding the school bus. Her friends are asking to see her poetry, and in a small tug of war she drops her pencil. As she bends down to pick it up, the bus and the upper torsos of everyone on the bus are sliced off by a mysterious force. More cartoon than tragedy, the film’s cold open evokes Sono’s breakthrough film Suicide Club with an absurd twist. This evil wind that haunts Mitsuko and her surroundings cuts right through people and initiates a chase that will take up most of the film’s running time.
As Mitsuko navigates her environment, her identity and her power over it shifts and changes. She loses her name, her face, and her age as she practically falls forward from one scenario to the next. A bloodbath follows her wherever she goes, be it the mysterious cutting wind, or her murderous and rampaging school teachers who are bent on her destruction and that of her peers.
At the heart of the film is the idea of an objective reality and fate in conflict with free will. One of Mitsuko’s classmates, the appropriately named ‘Surreal’, explains that the only way to change your destiny is through acts of spontaneity. The spontaneous is only a distraction or a diversion rather than a real plan of action; it might reroute your journey, but chances are if it’s “meant to be” you will wind up in the same spot anyway.
Fate traps us. A far cry from the teen dreams of “what is meant to be”, it suggests that who we are, what we do and what we want is meaningless. The idea that we have no control because a higher power has already determined our future perverts all sensorial experiences, good or bad; it makes a sick joke of love, life, and death in equal measure. This is the root of much of Tag, as well as much of Sono’s work. This bleeds into his ultra-violence, suggesting that what happens to our bodies is meaningless because we may not even be real.
More than ever, Sion Sono’s work has embraced the aesthetics of video games. Tag employs fast cutting and an intimate camera that looms around the characters, extending their point of view. The film places us squarely in the action, aware only tangibly of our greater surroundings. While in most films it would be a flaw to say the world beyond the frame feels limited, in this case it enhances the experience — suggesting our lack of greater experience beyond what we are told. At what point are we really sure that we have control over our own destiny?
Tag is a vibrant chase film, building on increased momentum in an increasingly absurd world. The film easily ranks among Sono’s strongest works and is especially exciting for its concentrated action. Whereas Love Exposure (2008) is an epic in every sense of the word, Tag is lean and fast without any extraneous moments. Above all else, the film is funny and sexy — a gruesome journey into our sense of perception and the power we have over destiny.
– Justine Smith