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Tag (2015)
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by Jay Seaver

"You're it, girls!"
4 stars

SCREENED AT THE 2015 FANTASIA INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL: "Tag" is the most recent of three films at the festival by Sion Sono, who is having an absurdly productive year (four films total released in 2015!), and there are points where it seems like this frantic pace is overtaking him, like you can't expect him to crank this much out and still expect all of it to have some sort of plot that makes sense. He almost seems to be asking us to just take the often jaw-dropping scenes, accept that the weird ways they're being strung together have some weight, and accept that such an assembly is more entertaining than most movies. If that were the case, he wouldn't be wrong, but there's a bit more than that.

The movie starts with one of the bloodiest school outings ever, as a strange wind sheers the buses carrying an entire class of a girls' high school in half, decapitating everyone but Mitsuko (Reina Triendl) - who was bending over to pick up a pencil. She sensibly runs away, but the wind seems to chase her, until she finds her school, where best friend Aki (Yuki Sakurai) and the rest of the class mysteriously seems okay. That's not the end of it for Mitsuko, though, as she soon finds not just the world around her changing, but herself, right down to her face and name (Mariko Shinoda plays bride-to-be "Keiko" and Erina Mano distance runner "Izumi") - the only constant is that something is always trying to kill her.

Nothing seems off-limits, and the over-the-top absurdity initially seems to have no pattern other than the complete lack of men on-screen, and just as soon as that seems firmly established for the audience to start to wonder if there's something to it, it's time to change things up again. Though Sono sets the bar for creative mayhem high with that opening sequence (the festival gave it a special award), he's far from done, as all three actresses are going to spend a good chunk of their time on screen running. The stuff they're running from changes up even more often than they do, from a completely disembodied hypothetical threat a demon groom to... Well, there are certain things a horror-ish movie can't lead out. These scenes seem impossible to link up even though Sono has them run right into each other; it's a contradiction that says amazing things about what a filmmaker of Sono's innovation and energy can do.

He's got a lot of help from his three leading ladies. Reina Triendl plays what we assume is the "real" character, and her Mitsuko seems the most well-rounded, earnestly frightened of the insane and bloody things going on, although she never seems passive despite often being paralyzed with confusion and unable to decide on a plan of action other than "run!". The other two outwardly seem to be opposite facets of Mitsuko - Mariko Shinoda's Keiko has a a road, soft-looking face and a dainty wedding dress while Erina Mano's Izumi is lean and obviously athletic - but they both pick up the baton they are handed extremely well: Even though they look different, and even though Keiko does seem a little more timid and Izumi a bit more defiant, there is a strong sense of one girl going through everything from start to finish; those minor personality shifts could just be where Mitsuko is at that point in the story, after all. For three actresses who may have never actually been on the set together, they certainly seem to all be on the same wavelength.

As chaotic as things seem, once Sono establishes the sci-fi premise, things click into place, and what initially seems like a gentle satire about the male gaze snaps into sharper focus. Video games seem to be the biggest target, specifically referenced in the dialog, as they do often seem to feature a sort of demure fantasy woman who can kick ass but only with the gamer's guidance. Not that the medium has any sort of monopoly on this, but given how much this sort of thing has been in the news over the last year or so, it's sharp targeting. The last act certainly cries out for breaking out of the control of men and stereotypes, even if Sono's not going to give Mitsuko/Keiko/Izumi any sort of speech about it. The audience is expected to unpack this on its own, and I suspect it may take a few more viewings before I truly manage that.

Which is fine, because Sono has made an immensely entertaining movie that will be a blast to revisit (though comparing it to the prior film version of the book he adapted, "The Chasing World", he seems to have retained very little beyond the idea of analogs on multiple worlds from the source material). This got the best of festival award, as did Triendl, and while I don't necessarily see that right away, I wouldn't be shocked if I could be convinced, and look forward to revisiting it to see.

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originally posted: 09/03/15 10:34:25
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2015 Fantasia International Film Festival For more in the 2015 Fantasia International Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2015 Chicago International Film Festival For more in the 2015 Chicago International Film Festival series, click here.

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Directed by
  Sion Sono

Written by
  Sion Sono
  Yusuke Yamada

  Reina Triendl
  Mariko Shinoda
  Erina Mano
  Yuki Sakurai

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