Wednesday 15 April 2020

On demand: "Tag"

The Japanese maverick Sion Sono came out of the decade just gone rather less forcefully than he went into it, but then it was always going to be hard to top the almighty primal howl of Himizu, his berserker masterpiece of 2011. Preceded by the logos of studios Shochiku and Universal, Sono's 2015 film Tag is the kind of genre piece our auteurs sometimes have a go at so as to fund more personal projects down the line, occasionally bringing a fresh idea or two into play with them. It has a very workable set-up - broadly Quantum Leap meets The Butterfly Effect - and a notoriously wicked opening, as a coachload of daytripping schoolgirls are met head on by a bracing gust of wind that literally blows right through them, leaving the bookish, dreamy Mitsuko (the Vienna-born Reina Trindl, not unlike an Asiatic Carey Mulligan with her naturally downturned features) as the sole survivor. Our girl embarks upon a fresh start, only to find there are forces at play in her universe that she cannot outrun; the viewer, meanwhile, is set to ghoulish chuckling, and the realisation Sono has spent whatever downtime a relentlessly prolific tyro has boning up on string theory.

Tag retains that fondness for full-throttle exploitation Sono displayed in his breakthrough works Love Exposure and Cold Fish: one oft-documented side effect of that killer breeze is how it blows up the schoolgirls' skirts, as if they were in The Benny Hill Show circa 1983 (call it G-string theory), and we also get possibly the most OTT kill scenes ever to have snuck into a 15-rated movie. Equally, though, some of Sono's choices - like the extended overhead shots of Mitsuko and truant friends running wild in the country - are bold and rewarding enough not to scream "trashy, dashed-off B-movie". The intensity Sono brings to what are in effect linking or expository sequences suggest he connected with some aspect of Yusuke Yamada's novel - quite possibly its heroine's ability to disrupt the norm. We're just settling into each new reality Mitsuko runs into when something major comes out of leftfield to change the game; basically, the movie is an excuse for Sono to enter various formal settings (a maths class, a wedding ceremony, a marathon) which he then takes great delight in trashing. Anyone hoping he might match Himizu's agonised sincerity might as well look elsewhere, because the goal is to elicit a WTAF every twenty minutes, but Tag unarguably achieves that, while confirming Sono as one of the few directors at large who seem incapable of making a dull movie - even when he's reporting to the studio suits.

Tag is available to stream via Amazon Prime. 

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