Original Title: Riaru Onigokko
Directed by Sion Sono Produced by Masayuki Tanishima Action by Tak Sakaguchi
Starring: Reina Triendl, Mariko Shinoda, Erina Mano, Yuki Sakurai, Aki Hiraoka, Ami Tomite, Mao Asou, Takumi Saitoh, Hinako Matsumoto
Reviewing: Amazon Prime UK Release
Genres: Suspense / Action / Horror
Rating - 4 / 5
Synopsis: Mitsuko is the sole survivor of a bizarre paranormal incident that kills all of her classmates. Running for her life, Mitsuko seemingly slips into an alternate reality, but death and chaos seems to follow her everywhere. As Mitsuko finds herself in increasingly surreal and violent situations, the true horror behind her nightmare is revealed.
Views: While on a peaceful field trip with her classmates, Mitsuko soon finds herself the lone survivor of an inexplicable disaster that sees both her coach, and the one in front, sliced in half – with the torsos of her classmates ripped from their seats and thrown through the air. As she makes a run for safety, Mitsuko must dodge an unseen force in the wind that continues to slice anyone in its way. Eventually escaping, the panic stricken schoolgirl is confused to find herself back at school with those she thought dead. Led to believe that it was all a dream, Mitsuko tries to continue with her day – supported by her friends who take her out of school to enjoy a pillow fight by the lake. But once back in the classroom, she soon finds herself in the midst of madness as her teacher mows down her classmates with a ratling-gun. Making another run for it, Mitsuko dodges bullets and bombs until she turns up at a police station – only with a whole new look and identity. The policewoman, who claims to know her, hurries the now-named (and extremely confused) Keiko to her wedding reception. Once again, she finds her dead classmates awaiting her – dressed for her special day. As it seems she may be losing her mind, best friend Aki tells her not to worry, explaining the situation to some degree as she breaks the bones, necks, and heads of the wedding party. Once again, Mitsuko finds herself in the middle of another horrific scenario – and an insane wedding party – that sees both her and Aki fight their way out against a host of manic guests, as well as the very same teachers that tried to shoot them up before. As Aki distracts the enemy, she sends Mitsuko running who soon finds herself altered from Keiko to Izumi – a popular school athlete who's in the middle of a cross country race. Once again confused, she just goes along with it and races for the finish line with her friends but soon finds herself being chased by her pig-headed husband-to-be and killer teachers. Hiding in an old mining facility, Izumi/Mitsuko is led by another classmate into the darkened tunnels, only to find herself face-to-face with 100 undead students who want her dead. She is saved once more by Aki who manages to pull the real Mitsuko back and manages to explain the surreal situation they have been stuck in. Only the tortured Mitsuko can help save them all from this constant nightmare, which all comes to a bizarre emotional conclusion that raises some questions about the fate of our future and society as a whole...
People used to say that my first film, Battle Of The Bone, had a lot of running. I mean, when you need to escape from zombies what else can you do? But after seeing Tag, I don't feel so bad for it because the girls in this film just run, and run, and run, and so on! The opening 10 minutes of Sino Sono's teen horror, is one of the wildest and most exciting I have seen in a long time. It's shocking and gripping, with a dash of dark humour thrown in for good measure. The thought of seeing two busloads of classmates sliced up and spread across the road is shocking in itself, but trying to escape a force that is determined to get you too, makes matters even worse. While many viewers will want to compare this to the Final Destination series, Tag proves to be a little bit more than just a couple of victims trying to trick death. Amid the bodies, bullets, explosions, and blood, the distraught Mitsuko finds herself lost in a parallel universe where the deadly force continues to give chase, and no amount of running (or pillow fights) are able to put a stop to it. It's a bizarre trip and a half that seemingly tackles many greater issues than the average horror or splatter-fest movie, dealing with themes of identity, fear, and reality as it takes us down the rabbit hole with Mitsuko, in a violent adventure that all becomes a little clearer by the third-act. Inspired by the novel Riaru Onigokko, by Yusuke Yamada, Sono manages to deliver a highly memorable piece that reminded me of the Netflix show Alice In Borderland, which was also based on a manga, as well as a few other films from Japan. But Tag still offers up something a little different, so it wouldn't be fair to just say that it's something we've all seen before!
The acting is pretty damn good and features a predominately female driven cast led by the beautiful Reina Triendl, an Austrian-Japanese actress popular in countless television shows, who also starred in Ju-On: The Beginning Of The End. Reina gives quite a believable and emotional performance as the confused and traumatised schoolgirl who tries to keep ahead of death. Her best friend is Aki, played by Yuki Sakurai, star of films such as Secret Love, Where Florence Sleeps, Shinjuku Swan, Call Boy, and television shows like Absolute Justice, The House On The Slope, Single Tokyo Man, and more. Whereas Mitsuko delivers the emotional drama in Tag, Aki delivers after the action – stepping up to the game to protect and help her best friend whenever needed. The gorgeous Takumi Saitoh gets a brief role at the end that brings in the twist of the story and offers fans the chance to see him sprawled out on a bed in just his tighty-whities. This model-turned-actor has appeared in many great films over the years including Takashi Miike's amazing 13 Assassins, The Prince Of Tennis, Robo-geisha, Vampire Girl Vs Frankenstein Girl, Re:Born, Shin Godzilla, as well as hundreds of hours of television, and is always a treat to watch. A strong supporting cast backs them up with the majority of those involved getting to join in on some sort of gore and/or action. A few bouts of martial arts come into play, directed by popular actor and choreographer Tak Sakaguchi who shot to fame after his role in Ryuhei Kitamura's awesome, Versus, and while the fights aren't the most enthralling scraps we've ever seen, they are typical 'Tak' and limited to the skills of the actresses involved of course.
A few more things that stand out about Tag are the cinematography, the score, and the special FX. Mixing CGI with practical work, the team behind the gore effects do an amazing job in bringing plenty of violence and shock from its opening bus scene, to the classroom shoot-up and the crazy wedding scene – offering up enough shock and mess to put a smile on the face of the most hardened horror fan. The cinematography is handled by Maki Ito, a first time DOP who provides a very clean and very well shot production. Since Tag, Maki has went on to lens titles such as Anti-Porno and Tokyo Vampire Hotel for Sono, The Peers, and the series of Werewolf Game films directed by Shin'ya Ayabe – who, incidentally, was also the assistant director for this. The score was not what I expected for a movie like Tag, but in a surprisingly positive way. First-time composer Hiroaki Kanai joins Susumu Akizuki, who had only worked on the television series Dog Days, before this. Between them, both composers offer a score that adds to the production value of Tag, with a very classical taste that compliments the great cinematography of Mai Ito. And then, of course, there's Sion Sono himself – the writer and director of Tag. With almost 60 directorial credits to his name – at the time of writing – Sono has made quite the reputation for himself delivering memorable titles such as Suicide Club, Exte: Hair Extensions, Anti-Porno, the Tokyo Vampire Hotel film and television series, Tokyo Tribe, and the much loved and very lengthy, Love Exposure – a film packed with so much madness, it takes almost 4 hours to tell the tale. Of course, there's so much more to see from the man, but I think Tag is right up there with some of his finest. Engrossing, shocking, and quite memorable, this is one film that's well worth the watch and definitely not for the faint-hearted!
Overall: With shades of Final Destination and Battle Royale running throughout, Sion Sono's Tag is an exciting experience that offers plenty of gore, shock, and action!