“Watch the ripple”
If リアル鬼ごっこ [Tag] were any indication of writer/director Sion Sono‘s warped mind, I’d almost believe he films without rhyme or reason besides excess. Based upon the Japanese novel Riaru onigokko by Yûsuke Yamada—coined by some as the Stephen King of Japan—this surreal tale of three girls in one traversing a nightmarish landscape of evil pursuers taking whatever form is most absurd lives on the edge of falling into complete randomness. You have to embrace the ride or else you’ll check out very early on because while watching as a gust of wind bisects every female in sight except for Mitsuko (Reina Triendl) can be bought, her subsequent transformation into Keiko (Mariko Shinoda) and Izumi (Erina Mano) approaches going too far. Wade in the pool of cluelessness long enough, however, and the answer may justify the chaos.
Or maybe you’re simply a fan of unbridled carnage inflicted with tongue-in-cheek flair despite a pitch-black horror darkening the laughs you almost feel bad about eliciting. After all, there’s appeal in watching fear without the capacity for answer once the aforementioned wind slices two buses full of uniformed school girls—engaged in a pillow fight no less—in half with just one survivor on account of her picking up a pen from the floor at the perfect moment. Triendl’s pale face of fright juxtaposed with the comical slabs of meat shooting blood into the air is a delightful scene because it never pretends to be more than senseless violence for violence sake. This cartoonish blood and gore arrives in increasingly odd ways to point towards its comic leanings while Mitsuko remains grounded in her prison of terror.
There’s a necessary doppelganger effect at play too that comes into focus as the ending draws near. It’s not a coincidence Mitsuko’s best friend Aki (Yuki Sakurai) continuously pops up to help steer her onto the correct path whether in her school girl form, that of a 25-year old bride-to-be (Keiko), or distance runner (Izumi) with relevant backstory impossible for the former to remember within the context of what’s presently unraveling. Aki is by her side no matter what to kick ass and blindly mutilate whoever is nearby. It doesn’t even matter if these nameless bodies are malicious or smiling from the sidelines because at some point they all turn. As such the lead(s) must be at the ready for karate-chops, wine bottle knife-fights, and machinegun blasts. It’s a race for survival with no end in sight.
As another of Mitsuko’s friends Sur says repeatedly throughout, the only way to escape the circuitous journey towards oblivion is to act so spontaneously that your own brain doesn’t know what’s coming. This is easier said than done in a world where the unthinkable occurs as standard operating procedure. What can you do to switch things up when your surroundings consist of homicidal teachers mowing down their entire school because four girls skipped class? How about a pig man in a tuxedo squealing uncontrollably? No matter the insanity it’s always somehow Mitsuko who keeps moving on to the next stage and always we the viewer inexplicably positioned as her assailant via the camera’s first-person vantage point. Are we somehow responsible for everything? What if I said we definitely are—although in a societal sense salivating for victimless entertainment?
It’s impossible to continue my train of thought without spoilers so just know that Tag isn’t for everyone mainly because it’s about humanity itself and some don’t want to ever admit to such. Even though Mitsuko is the main character, the universe she travels within is hardly that of a feminine gaze. There are no Y-chromosomes to seen and when the suspense grows too high the women for whatever reason start to take off their blouses as they hurl insults towards their target. What Sono has created is a living, misogynistic videogame wherein we as viewers condone the complete annihilation of women at the hands of women as though part of some warped wet dream. From the pillow fights to an imagined alligator attack honing in on its victim’s genitals, the sexist filter is unavoidable.
We’re the pig man reveling in the bloodletting of a gender, oinking in excitement as our leather-clad hit-women push forward to capture Mitsuko’s crying innocent in the middle. She’s the goal, yet whenever she’s in our grasp she re-spawns. I may have already spoiled the film’s themes and metaphoric construction so admitting a “male-centric” world does exist isn’t much of an additional transgression. Nor is saying the men hold this central overlapping trio as goddesses with which to do their worst. Because rather than portray men acting heinously for us to shrug off and say, “Well that’s not me,” Sono turns the tables to watch us laugh in glee until realizing our inherent complicity. Tag is victim-blaming at its most socially absurd because Mitsuko’s sole avenue towards freedom becomes death. And victimizing a corpse isn’t nearly as fun.