Japanese director Sion Sono is certainly an interesting chap. You need only look to his seminal work, the 2001 cult hit Suicide Circle to appreciate his talent for telling tales that are both utterly engaging and yet totally bewildering with utmost aplomb.
In his latest venture, Tag, Sono takes us deep down a tainted rabbit hole for an adventure in the deadliest of wonderlands.
(Very) loosely based on the book by acclaimed Japanese horror writer Yusuke Yamada, Tag follows the cerebral tale of Mitsuko (played at various points by Reina Triendl, Erina Mano, and AKB48’s Mariko Shinoda) as she finds herself apparently jumping between parallel universes, guided only by her sapphic companion Aki (Yuki Sakurai), running from an unseen force determined to destroy her and anyone with whom she comes into contact.
From its shocking opening sequence, Tag is one of those rare films that you simply cannot take your eyes away from. The perpetual feeling of having no idea what is happening is perfectly counteracted by the desperate need to know exactly that. Quite simply, it is the most bizarre and yet intoxicatingly watchable film I’ve had the pleasure to sit through in a very long time.
The character of Mitsuko, at first played by Austrian-born Reina Triendl, is an intriguingly hysterical Alice figure, lost in Wonderland, being guided by the beautiful Aki, who varies perfectly between being a steadfast mentor figure, a caring love interest and, when needed, a kick-ass action hero. Ami Tomite, meanwhile, as the expositional Cheshire Cat, Sur, is a lovely piece of comic relief amidst the bloody mayhem.
And bloody mayhem it is.
Sono’s world is cleverly crafted. It took a while to realise amidst the gore and panty shots that there is not a man in sight. Indeed, at points during the first act, one had to wonder whether this was simple fetishism, but when the final curtain falls, it all makes sense. The journey plays out like The Matrix meets Final Destination in a joyous, beautifully shot universe that verges somewhere on the outskirts of reality.
Camera work is, for the most part top notch, though the drone usage, at first highly impressive, does quickly grow a little jarring. The over-the-top bloodbath, meanwhile, has the typically schlock ridiculousness more often associated with the works of Noboru Iguchi than Sono’s usual fayre, but amidst the strangeness, it works wonderfully.
Overall, this is perhaps one of Sono’s most approachable pieces for the uninitiated. Does that mean it’s any less off-the-wall than any other? Oh, dear lord, no. But what we are presented with is an engaging and entrancing exploration into exploitation that never fails to shock at every twisting turn.
Tag is available on DVD & Blu-Ray from November 20th, courtesy of Eureka Entertainment
Dir: Sion Sono
Scr: Sion Sono
Cast: Reina Triendl, Mariko Shinoda, Erina Mano, Yuki Sakurai, Aki Hiraoka, Ami Tomite
Music: Susumu Akizuki, Hiroaki Kanai
Run time: 85mins