Within the first three minutes of Sion Sono’s new film Tag (one of three playing at this year’s Fantasia Fest) two busses filled with Japanese schoolgirls get cut in half by an invisible force, leaving all but the one girl lucky enough to be picking up her pen at the time decapitated in an instant. It’s like that famous scene from Ghost Ship but attached to a much better movie.
You may disagree with that last opinion, however. While I usually recommend all humans see Sono films (even if you ultimately don’t like Tokyo Tribe, for instance, you just gotta experience it), Tag takes place within a realm of Lynchian weirdness that I wouldn’t wish upon anyone who didn’t already have at least a little fondness for that sort of thing. This movie will be a blast for some but strongly repel those who demand literalism.
As you might assume from that last paragraph, explaining the story for a movie like this isn’t easy. Essentially, it focuses on a girl named Mitsuko’s journey through a brightly-lit shifting nightmare where everything that happens acts as a metaphor for the struggles of growing into adulthood (my take, but I'm not 100% on it). Sono punctuates each leg of her trip with fun massacres and confusing identity changes. The film is almost entirely an all-female affair, which is refreshing, but its Japanese nature also demands maximum high school girl panty action, so it’s kind of a one step forward, one step back situation.
Tag is filled enough with bizarre twists and cool violence that viewers have a choice while watching it. You can develop your high reading of the film, constantly asking "what is this satarizing?" and “what part of life does this metaphor represent?” or you can sit back and enjoy all the beautiful, weird gore and get by solely on tone. You can even do a mixture of both! It’s a movie, not your taxes.
Eventually, Tag does offer an explanation for what’s going on, but it’s too bonkers and out of left field to really satisfy everything building up to it. Instead of solving the puzzle, it ends up just adding more weirdness to unpack.
But that’s okay! The film is entertainingly weird enough to sustain dreamy nonsense (if that’s what it is) and/or enhance its own philosophical examination (if that’s what it is). At about eighty minutes long, this is more of an experiment than grand statement from Sono. As such, there isn’t as much pressure for the film to reach some orgasmic entertainment level. Tag is small and modest, but also crazy and violent. You may not know what’s going on, but that doesn’t mean you can enjoy all the weird surprises the film has in store for you.
(Tag is an official selection of the 2015 Fantasia Film Festival.)