A high school student is stalked by various forces that seem bent on killing everyone around her.
In 1953, when Ozu released his masterpiece “Tokyo Story”, many audiences considered that film to be “too Japanese” to have any sort of impact on western cultures, and as a result, the film wasn’t widely distributed in the US until nigh twenty years later. Why do I bring that up? Well, in today’s world climate, the world has shrunk, and our cultures don’t feel as far apart as they used to. Japanese culture influences western culture all the time, and vice versa- we no longer have to wait twenty years to see something that originates entirely from another culture. This is a film that even today might still be considered ‘too Japanese’ by many audiences not well acquainted with foreign cinema, or for those who haven’t ever had an interest in Japanese culture. I, personally, gravitate towards Eastern films. For most of my life I’ve a predilection for anime, and over the past few years, I’ve grown increasingly interested in Asian thrillers. Why? Because they show me things I wouldn’t have otherwise seen. Our cultures, while they are much closer together now than when Ozu released “Tokyo Story”, are still very different, with plenty of ideas that seem foreign to we westerners. For some people, those differences will be a huge turn off for the film, for others (like myself), it will be exactly why we came to the film in the first place. Is this film a masterpiece like “Tokyo Story”? No, not at all, but it is a glimpse into the psyche of another culture, and more than that, it’s one heck of a ride.
"Maybe our destiny is decided. We're trapped in it."
The world of “Tag” is violent and bizarre, and much of the fun comes from trying to figure out what’s really happening to our main character, Mitsuko (Reina Triendl, “Ninkyo Yaro”). When we frist me Mitsuko, she’s riding on a bus to school on a particularly sunny day, surrounded by her friends who inexplicably decide to have a pillow fight. The scene that sets the stage for this whole film is rather humorous- it’s way too cheesy to be taken as genuine, and the film knows it. It’s meant to be a little ridiculous how jovial everyone is, and that is almost immediately undercut by the violence that follows. Without warning, the both the bus in front of the one Mitsuko is riding on, and the bus Mitsuko is on split in half horizontally, killing all the students and the bus driver on board. Luckily, Mitsuko was ducking down, and avoided bifurcation. Horrified by the half-corpses around her, almost all of which are spurting gallons of blood, Mitsuko bolts for the woods, and is chased by something in the wind. From there, Mitsuko runs to a school, where she is greeted by all of her classmates that she’d just seen dead and scattered across the road. Confused, Mitsuko tries to go about her day, while at the same time trying to figure out what is going on. Could she be going crazy? Is she jumping between realities? Is there something supernatural going on?
One of the things I liked most about this film is the episodic feeling. Normally, this is something that I really hate in films. I hate the idea that I know a pattern will repeat itself multiple times in the same film. The first “Conan the Barbarian” is a great example of why episodic storytelling can feel boring and as if the plot is never advancing- for the first forty-five minutes of the movie, Conan does nothing but wander around, fighting random baddies, sleeping with demonic witches, and really accomplishing nothing at all. It feels like we’re spinning our wheels without going anywhere. This film is different because it plays into the fact that Mitsuko has caught on that the story she’s in is episodic. This film is sort of meta in a way that the main character, after a time, realizes that she is in a continuing chain of events, and she’s trying to get out. When the character knows she’s in a pattern, it makes the pattern more intense, more frightening. Mitsuko knows something terrible is going to happen to her classmates and friends around her in a matter of moments- she doesn’t know what it is that will happen, nor does she know if she’ll be able to escape this time- but she knows something is coming. Adding the constant rise and fall of stakes creates another layer of tension to this film; it never lets the viewer relax, because you’re always anticipating the next slaughter. But while this also adds to the tension, Mitsuko is constantly learning things with each repeating pattern. We slowly chip away illusions, and slowly glean what’s happening- it creates a feeling of forward motion, though we’re essentially seeing the same pattern repeat again and again. The story itself is rather compelling, and the twist at the end is what really solidifies it as a horror film. While I wouldn’t consider this movie particularly frightening due to the way it approaches violence, the themes and ways people treat each other are all reminiscent of horror films. It feels grim at the end, and though there is a small ray of hope, that silver lining does come with a grey cloud. In the ending, this film also takes a huge stab at men looking at women as possessions; it’s a feminist film, at heart. Though I can’t go into the details of why, for that would spoil the fun of finding out what's happening to Mitsuko.
Going back to my original thoughts of how Ozu’s “Tokyo Story” was too Japanese, I want to say that this film, for many people, might be too much of a culture shock the first time through, particularly if you’re not used to foreign cinema (for this one, contemporary foreign cinema). I watched this with my brother, who doesn’t go out of his way to watch foreign cinema, but will occasionally sit down with me to watch something I recommend, and he and I both enjoyed this film. There are lots of moments to laugh at, as well as some moments that are quite thrilling. For horror/gore fans, there’s plenty here for you to like, and the body count is higher than a lot of action movies. This is a fun and thrill filled ride, with a twist that actually makes you think. Though there are some issues with the CGI looking rather cheap, I would say the rest of the movie is pretty polished, in terms of story, pacing, and excitement.
END NOTE: Even if you don’t watch “Tag”, I wholeheartedly recommend Sion Sono’s “Cold Fish”!
This is part of our 31 Nights of Thrills Series. Not all of the movies we review for this series will be strictly horror, but all will have something to do with the spirit of things spooky or scary. If you like those types of movies, be sure to check back throughout the month of October!
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