Picture a Japanese schoolgirl sitting on a bus and writing poetry to pass the time on the way to some field trip. The scenery outside her window is so bucolic even her teacher and bus driver fawn over it, yet there she is writing her poetry. The rowdy girls around her won’t stop teasing and joking about her always having her head in a book as the world passes by. Nevertheless, she persists.
But then she drops her pen.
What do you think happens next in this scenario? Because I promise you whatever answer you come up with won’t be as astoundingly, jaw-droppingly insane as what writer-director Sion Sono came up with. Everything I’ve described occupies the first couple of minutes of his 2015 film Tag. The schoolgirl in question is named Mitsuko (Reina Triendl), a shy, wallflower type with rather soulful eyes, and the adventure she ends up undertaking after such a humble beginning is an entirely rewarding journey even if the destination ends up disappointing.
Newly released on Netflix, Tag is best described, honestly, by not describing it at all. I came to the film based on Rebekah McKendry’s recommendation on the most recent episode of Blumhouse’s Shock Waves podcast. She rather excitedly related loving the film’s first 10 minutes so much she just had to text all of her co-hosts and demand that they stop everything and queue up the film on Netflix, even though it was 10:30 at night. However, she also quite masterfully refrained from spoiling anything other than to say the opening is so gung-ho insane you’ll instantly be hooked and perhaps a tad more forgiving of the film’s increasingly diminished returns.
Yeah….she’s not wrong. Tag contains one of the most jarring, attention-grabbing openings to any film I’ve seen in recent memory, and to spoil it would be a cinematic sin. As the narrative progresses beyond the opening and the film’s intentional tonal schizophrenia and repeated references to surrealism really start to pile up you’re sucked in because you just have to know where this is all going even if you suspect there’s no way the pay-off will live up to the impressive build-up. Sadly, you’re right to guess as much. But seeing as how the story so frequently cycles through different genres, veering from horror to action to [redacted], and layers on so much social commentary (hint: you’ll quickly notice the lack of any male characters) by the end you’ll at least admire Tag’s ambition, if not always the execution.
But don’t look at the poster.
Don’t read the plot description on Netflix.
Just hit the play button, sit back and watch.
THE BOTTOM LINE
The opening scene is recommended to all horror fans. The rest of the film is more recommended to fans of surrealism as well as those more amenable to Japanese cinema’s idiosyncrasies and more limited resources.
RANDOM PARTING THOUGHT
- WARNING: Given the state of gun violence in the world, particularly school gun violence, you should know beforehand, even though this is a fairly significant plot spoiler, there is a prolonged mid-movie sequence where armed school teachers suddenly start shooting students. It is presented in a comic booky, 80s action movie kind of way, with otherwise prim and proper Japanese teachers packing some serious heat and dispassionately mowing down poor, innocent students. By the end of Tag, you will better understand the scene and how the film is actually a commentary against such violence, but it still might be a disturbing viewing experience for you.
Tag is on Netflix right now.