On Dual-Format Blu-ray/ DVD Mon 20 Nov 2017

Sion Sono is certainly giving his infamous compatriot Miike Takashi a run for his money in terms of both the quantity of output and for outlandish content.  Following on from his bizarre, uneven hip-hop yakuza  musical Tokyo Tribe, Tag begins with ten minutes of lunatic splatter that rivals his own Suicide Club in sheer bravura carnage.  As with that film, the victims are large groups of school girls, which makes one wonder what trauma was suffered by young Sion at the hands of his female classmates.

Although peppered with liberal amounts of blood (courtesy of Tokyo Gore Police nutter Yoshihiro Nishimura) and a worrying amount of up-skirt camera work (both very much present throughout Sion’s career, Love Exposure being the prime example), there is an argument that a more feminist sensibility is at work in Tag.  The story sees Mitsuko (Reina Triendl), a young schoolgirl, bounced from one surreal, threatening scenario after another, morphing Lost Highway-style into reluctant bride Keiko (Mariko Shinoda) and marathon runner Izumi (Erina Mano) along the way.  All actresses are excellent in roles that are different aspects of a single female experience in a bizarre Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland fable.

Such is the proliferation of simultaneously troubling and hilarious craziness that it’s easy not to realise that there is no male presence in the movie at all until well into the third act. That appearance satirises both fanboy culture and the misogyny of exploitation cinema, while remaining very much in that ignoble tradition.  Until then Tag can be seen as an extreme examination of women internalising the structure of patriarchy and perpetuating it themselves.  Fair enough, this is depicted as leather-clad school teachers mowing down their charges with hugely phallic machine guns, and a vengeful pig husband attacking female marathon runners, but it’s this very incongruity that makes Tag such a strangely powerful and potent work.

In among the gore and surrealism are scenes of real female friendship, characterised by the fiercely loyal Aki (Yuki Sakurai), protector and confidante of all three versions of “Mitsuko.” There is a bucolic, wistful air to the cinematography at times thanks to nice use of drone photography, and a wonderful post-rock soundtrack courtesy of the Japanese band MONO.  These various elements are perhaps not the easiest to gel together, and as the accompanying promo material attests it’s a curious alchemical attempt to mix the grindhouse and the arthouse. As such, it has an instantly limited audience.

However, for all its determined oddness and uneasy truce between feminist action-fantasy and grimy sexualised schoolgirl romp, Tag is well worth tracking down.  There is a certain oneiric logic that is coherent within its strange universe and very few films pack so many ideas and energy into a hurtling 85 minutes.  Even compared to the rest of Sono’s barmy canon it’s something of a curio, but all the better for it.