Full of absurdist surrealism, Sion Sono’s Tag (RIARU ONIGOKKO, 2015) delivers classic Japanese horror gore while simultaneously exploring the nature of existence through action fantasy. Its heroine, Mitsuko (Reina Triendl), is a high-school student whose reality and identity repeatedly morph as she tries to understand what is killing all the other girls she knows and why.
While Mitsuko’s identity (played by Mariko Shinoda and Erina Mano) and reality completely change twice as the plot unfolds, one constant is her friend Aki (Yuki Sakurai), who acts to prepare and encourage her. In each situation, Mitsuko must flee while all the girls around her are slaughtered. Ultimately, Aki tells Mitsuko that she is in a fictional world in which she is the main character. Mitsuko must somehow stop an outside force that is intent on killing her. The answers that she finds to her questions about fate and destiny involve an unholy marriage of high technology and sexism.
Like Sono’s 2001 Suicide Club (or Suicide Circle), this film can be described as “grindhouse meets arthouse,” to borrow Variety‘s Richard Kuipers’ assessment of Tag. However, it is much more surrealistic and less focused on transgressive sexuality. Like Why Don’t You Play in Hell? (2013), it employs absurd tropes of dark comedy. Unlike both previous Sono films, however, Tag focuses on women, not men, and takes a feminist stance on power relationships between women and men in Japanese society.
I gave this film 3.5 out of 5 stars on Letterboxd. It’s currently streaming on Netflix. Anyone who’s a fan of J-Horror and/or Sion Sono’s filmmaking style and nihilistic worldview should check it out.