Japanese director Sion Sono is probably the director whose work I have most reviewed on this blog, and yet to call myself a fan isn't entirely accurate. Sono has the dubious distinction of being, at least in my eyes, consistently inconsistent. He certainly has the ability to create some stunning films as “Cold Fish”, “Himizu” and “Why Don't You Play In Hell?” can attest to, but he equally has the ability to create total duds like “Guilty Of Romance” , “The Land of Hope” or the recent “Tokyo Tribe”. With each film you are never sure which Sono you are going to get. Whilst he is always a very inventive director, his films are unlike anyone else's, I also find him to be a sloppy filmmaker to the point that some of his films appear rushed. I'm also not sure if he is a great actor's director either as I always have issues with him letting his actors overact in a lot of his movies. This year, 2015, sees Sono release five brand new films (as well as a television movie too), which is easily his most productive year to date, but with this increase in production will his film's come across as even more rushed or less polished than normal? “Tag” is the first of these five films that I have been able to watch so lets take a look and see just which Sion Sono came to the party this time.
Due to the confusing nature of the story, I am once again going to blatantly steal the synopsis from imdb: “A girl's life cascades into chaos as everyone around her suffers a gruesome fate while she herself becomes less and less certain of who she is and what kind of a world she lives in”.
I am not even going to bother to hide the fact that I disliked “Tag” immensely. It felt an immature story, that made little sense, and whose premise bordered on the very disturbing. Worse is the fact that Sono has muddled his intentions behind the film, making it even more frustrating than it should've been. Unfortunately “Tag” is a film that is impossible to talk about, in regards to its faults, without revealing the film's finale, so if you are sensitive to spoilers and want to go into this film fresh, stop reading now.
Much is going to be made by gore hounds about how “cool” the opening bus massacre is in “Tag” and I am sure it is through this scene that the film will make its reputation. Whilst it rivals the opening of Sono''s own “Suicide Club” in terms of bloodletting, in terms of cinematic technique, it is not even close. The terrible CGI carnage on display in this scene is exactly the kind of thing I am talking about with Sono being sloppy, or having a close enough is good enough approach to making films. It just looks so amateurish and takes you out of the film immediately, so you never feel the horror of the situation nor the impact that it should make on our main character. I have never been a fan of CGI blood, but understand how it makes creating a scene like this easier, knowing you never have to reset the shot again and clean up the actors for a second take, but if you have to resort to using computer imagery, you need to make it as seamless as possible for it to exist in the real world. Personally, I just found the scene to be very lazy.
The problem with “Tag” is that it is a very hard film to go along with because it is just so confusing, and it appears that it makes little to no sense. For the majority of this eighty odd minute movie, we have a teenage school-girl, Mitsuko, constantly running around whilst all the other schoolgirls in her vicinity are being massacred by an unknown and unseen force. When the film finally does stop to breathe and we are introduced to more of Mitsuko's friends, unfortunately it doesn't get any clearer, as we are only with these new girls for a brief moment before they too are killed. It gets weirder still as Mitsuko soon morphs into a totally different character named Keiko who is readying herself for her wedding, however the murders continue to happen with Keiko being once again the only survivor. She morphs once more into the athlete Izumi, and it is then, that the viewer can feel the pattern and knows what will come next, but still has no reasons as to why it is happening. It is also around this time that you become cognisant of the fact that there are no males whatsoever in this world. The only constant in the film is Mitsuko's friend Aki, who appears in each variation of the world, and who is equally dubious about the reality they exist in.
MAJOR SPOILERS COMING! STOP READING IF YOU DO NOT WANT TO KNOW THE ENDING OF “TAG”. Once the reveal of what is truly going on in “Tag” is explained, the film is at its most troubling and what Sono is actually trying to say has to be questioned. It turns out that the film is set well into the future and that Mitsuko and her friends are actually characters in a video game created by males and played by males, who have somehow gotten hold of their DNA back when they were living, breathing humans. The problem with this is that it then means that the entire reason for these girl's being alive is to be a male's toy, a plaything, and once Mitsuko and her friends realise this, they end up committing suicide. So what is Sono trying to say then? Is it a very troubling misogynistic take, that women are worth nothing except when useful to men, and thus once they outlive their usefulness, they should then be destroyed? Whilst Sion Sono has been the target of frequent accusations of misogyny, I find it hard to think in this day and age that a filmmaker would be promoting such a situation. However, Sono does not help himself or those trying to defend him when he includes scenes such as when the police officer is molested early on in “Tokyo Tribe”. Unfortunately too, these kind of scenes are frequent in a Sono film and often very tasteless. However, it is conceivable that Sono has actually created a tale with a feminist streak to it, in that the girls at the end decide to take control of their own lives and refuse to be a slave to men's disgusting desires by willingly taking their own lives. I am not sure exactly what Sono is actually going for here, and that is the biggest flaw to “Tap” because its message is muted by not being clearly defined. As such, it then becomes pointless.
In terms of the filmmaking on display, as I mentioned earlier, it is at times a little immature. Due to the nature of the story, it has been filmed from a male's fantasy perspective. Camera angles are low to the ground, so as to get as many upskirt and panty shots as possible, whilst the characters themselves all do silly things that exist only in a males mind, such as pillow fighting in slow motion. Of course when danger is around, the main girls are able to kick arse also and all of the girls are very beautiful. I must point out some positives, as Sono does use some quite inventive camera work, especially early on when the massacre takes place, particularly when representing the unseen force killing the girls, and the film does look good throughout, but even this didn't stop me from thinking just how rushed the film felt.
From an acting point of view, for once I had no problem with Sono letting his actors overact, however I thought that Reina Triendl (who places Mitsuko) was incredibly dull in the role and seemed to have one expression on her face the entire time, despite all the madness going on around her. Also for someone who spends the majority of her screen-time running, she looked so awkward in her running style. Her long legs and knobbly knees made her look like a baby giraffe attempting to stand for the first time. On the other hand, young Erina Mano excelled in her far too brief role of Izumi (the athlete). The camera loves her and she is so charismatic that its hard to take your eyes off of her. Sono obviously loves her too because he cast her in four of his five films that he released in 2015.
Overall, “Tag” left a bad taste in my mouth and to be honest, I'm starting to get a little sick of the cinema of Sion Sono. I still have four more films of his to check out from this year, so he may change my mind yet, but right now my attention is starting to wain. Just from other reviews I've read on “Tag”, it is obvious to see that this is a film that has divided people, so it wont be for everyone, but in my opinion this is not a great film at all. It is sloppily put together, and for the most part very immature, but its biggest flaw comes in its confused and potentially disturbing premise.