Mitsuko (Reina Triendl) is a schoolgirl on a bus to school with her classmates, driven through a picturesque countryside location on a lovely day, but not looking out of the window as she prefers to be lost in thought composing poetry in her diary. She is interrupted by a couple of girls who make fun of her and cause her to drop her pen, but as she crouches in the aisle in the aftermath of a feather pillow fight, suddenly there is a powerful gust of wind, so powerful in fact that the top half of the bus is sheared off and with it the top half of the pupils, the teacher and the driver. At first Mitsuko cannot take this in, but then realises she must adopt drastic measures to survive the killer wind...
It's safe to say Tag was not your usual movie, although for its director Sion Sono perhaps it was, since it was well up to his bizarre standards, if notably briefer than his accustomed epics. The reason for that brevity could have been the fact that he helmed an incredible six features in the year this was released, this being one of them, so by necessity had to ensure he had the time to direct all those other projects as well as this one. If you suspected he was spreading his talents far too thinly, then there was little here to appeal to the unconverted with its meandering plot and light fetishization of Japanese teenage girls, especially those in short skirts, something to get over, then.
On the other hand, those schoolgirls were focused on for a reason as we discovered if you made it to the end, which was an explanation no less weird than what had preceded it, but made a kind of sense in that the plot was mounting a defence for the girls against the male gaze, or at least the male objectification of their gender. But even at eighty-five minutes including credits, there was a lot to get through to reach that conclusion, and hardly any of it relevant to a discussion of sexual politics as far as the uninitiated could discern - the initiated may have had a little trouble solving that particular riddle as well, as Tag came across as the product of a seriously easily distracted mind.
What would happen to Mitsuko was relevant as far as her identity crisis was progressing, but getting into specifics was a trickier option and one seemingly connected to the inner workings of nobody's mind but Sion's. Every so often a striking image would appear to be making a grand statement about the female place in society, be that one of the girls getting chomped repeatedly in the genitals by a huge crocodile or the teachers at the school deciding they have no patience with classroom rebellion and deciding the solution is to arm themselves and start shooting and blowing up their pupils in an extended sequence, but in spite of bits of business such as that where you may think you could understand what the movie was getting at, as a whole it cleaved too close to the incoherent, even random, to relate to.
With all that in mind, you might think Tag was a complete mess and probably not worth your time bothering with if it was going to play out as nearly an hour-and-a-half of confusion and discombobulation, yet Sion had his own curious integrity and dedication to his vision that would be dismissed at the peril of missing something truly provocative and fascinating. Admittedly, there's no way this was going to be the cup of tea for the mass market, but fans of extreme cinema or simply those who wanted a headtrip of a movie to tickle the WTF? muscle in their cognitive faculties would find a lot to appreciate. It can be good to see a work that challenged, and if it was as darkly playful as this, with Mitsuko changing her personality and even body as much as she changed her location, the effects could be genuinely bracing. There was nobody in the West making films like this, and barely anyone in Japan for that matter, leaving a conclusion that would baffle many, but seeing a minority nodding "I get it!"
[Just trailers on Eureka's Blu-ray, but the film was a feast for (two of) the senses.]