It might seem odd that a film that’s cold open, if you will, begins with a hard wind slicing of the top of two school busses, and also the top half of the bodies of most of the girls within, could be called one of the most insightful films of 2015 but, alas, that is what Tag is. A campy, bloody and entertaining film like no other this year, the film is able to pull together its incredibly fun and utterly bonkers segments into a deranged, yet brilliant statement unrivaled by anything I’ve seen so far this year. What’s so fantastic about Tag is that it proves that you don’t necessarily need to pander, or sign post the fact that you are making fun of something in order to create a powerful meta-commentary like some films seem to believe (cough, The Final Girls, cough). It’s an incredibly dense 85 minutes that can either be taken at face value as pure hilarity or as the incredibly rousing thematic piece that it is, commenting on a multitude of issues including the medium of video games, the idea of destiny and the male gaze.
To somebody who’s only sat through the first portion of this film, the assertion that this film does have a feminist, or at least progressive, slant might actually astound. Even though there’s quite literally no actual males for the first two-thirds of the film, the opening shots that are non-violent are incredibly objectifying. It should be noted that, while the protagonist is the same in spirit, she changes in name and form with every segment, yet this objectification does not. The first schoolgirl in the film has to change her bloody shirt in front of the camera, while the second group of schoolgirls are always framed by a creepily low angle shot that accentuates their far too short outfits. In the marriage sequence, the new protagonist walks up to the groom surrounded by women in dresses, but this sequence even ends with them all in bras. For the first two thirds of the film, the film alternates between sexualizing and attacking these female characters. However, early hints in this film should really hint at where this is going; note that the only male in this fictional world is the character’s groom, who turns out to be a giant pig in a tuxedo (one of my favorite parts of the film is when this pig reappears during the marathon sequence to chase the protagonist, does back flips, and kicks some girls in the head). The final sequences, however, serve as to make the film’s actual statement on what has passed. At this point, we have only gotten hints of what is actually going on and as to why this character keeps changing and getting attacked by some unknown force. After barely escaping death, now-Mitsuko is begged by her recurring friend Aki to ‘rip the cables out of her arms’ as it is the only way to escape this horrific world. After another ridiculously gory death, it is shown that these cables lead through a portal which, in fact, is the barrier between Misuko’s world and “The Male World.” This world is opposite of the female world; it is dark, dreary, and the males seem to all be fixated on a poster for a new video game, which it is revealed, we were just watching: Tag 3D.
This is the moment where Tag moves to contextualize all of the campy gore and outrageous action that has passed with an extremely satisfying statement. Already, the film has begun to retroactively assign the bright sequences depicting either the mass slaughter or objectification of females as something that was intended, all along, for male viewers to take pleasure in. Now, however, Mitsuko meets an old man playing the game who proceeds to comment on how proud he is of the fact that he was able to clone and take her DNA for the purposes of his entertainment. A scantily clad younger man lays down on a bed across the room and the old man beckons Mitsuko to fulfill her 150 year old destiny by, presumably, sleeping with him. Let’s pause at this line, for a moment, and appreciate its utter brilliance. What Sion Sono is essentially arguing here is that, in all of the years that media of this sort has existed, in all of the portrayals of females on screen and in this game, has led to this protagonist sleeping with a man. Sono, of course, does not uphold this status quo, having Mitsuko kill the young man as she screams “stop playing with us in your games.” With this thesis, if you will, on the male gaze coming to an end, Sono ties it up with another recurring thematic piece: destiny. Mitsuko remembers an earlier line where her friend tells her that sometimes you have to do something completely unexpected to, essentially, break the cycle of stodgy fate so Mitsuko proceeds to kill herself in all of the iterations of the game. By doing so, in the final snowy shots, Mitsuko is able to run free for the first time.
Tag also, obviously, touches on the medium of video games in a manner not usually achieved in filmmaking. It leaves lingering questions as to who, exactly, these games are for and what kind of fantasies they conjure. It begs the question of if they’re incredibly misogynistic or just masochist: is it any surprise, or at all outlandish, that this video game gratuitously blends sex and violence for the player’s pleasure? I also love the intelligent switch that this makes in the way that spectators are supposed to approach the visual effects of the first half of the film. What at first seems to be intentional camp, or silly gore, actually because a spot on depiction of cartoonish video game violence. That sort of retroactive switch that redefines the attractions Tag presents I think is so nuanced and just a wonderful way to interact with the audience. What I’ve just gone through is only a small part of what Tag, as a film, has to offer as a piece of analysis. I haven’t even begun to touch on the way it retroactively approaches the male-centric medium of video games (and how this validates the cartoonish violence prior) and the issues of surrealism and destiny. In fact, I don’t think I’ve even done justice to the progressive work that Tag achieves in conjunction with the male gaze. But that’s what makes Tag so wonderful: I can already imagine re-visiting it and writing another thousand words on its representation of females or any other number of issues. If I didn’t have so many other films to write about that I’ve seen recently, I probably would keep doing so below. For the moment, I’ve just offered a bit of an introduction on Tag‘s genius. What makes this film such a magical experience is that, in addition to how rich it is for analysis, it’s also just ridiculously fun. This is something that isn’t achieved very often, as films veer too far to either side, and deserves to be lauded on a much broader scale than the undeservedly minuscule attention the film is getting. I’m not sure if Tag will end up being the best film of 2015 given the amount of time left, but it’s going to take an absolute cinematic masterpiece to top it.