My fiance and I like to watch poorly done, low-budget Asian movies because we find it entertaining. Going in, we thought live-action horror movie Tag (Riaru Onigokku in Japanese) was going to be one of these movies.
But we were wrong. So wrong. On the surface, Tag, directed by Shion Sono is a splatter, gore film. The basic story is about a shy girl named Mitsuko who ends up travelling to different realities, but everywhere she goes, those around her are brutally killed. Each time, she is the only survivor.
However, laced throughout the strange, surreal, and gory events are positive themes of feminism and homosexuality. As a queer girl myself, I believe this whole movie is a metaphor for the Mitsuko’s homosexuality and the struggle she faces as a gay woman in Japan. On top of this, the film is very well done, with great photography, cinematography, music, and tons of symbolism.
Before proceeding, I would like to say that this movie is very violent, and is rated R. I won’t place any gory pictures here, but there will be many spoilers.
The story begins with a group of high school girls going on a class trip. Most of the girls are rowdy and outgoing, except for Mitsuko, who quietly sits and writes poems. Right away, she is obviously different from the other girls. As I have written about before, conformity is strongly stressed in Japanese society. Fitting in with the group is considered important, and being out of the group is taboo. Since she isn’t like the other girls, Mitsuko gets picked on by some girls, who taunt her for always writing poems. Although the yuri themes don’t come until a little later, this scene could be setting up the idea of Mitsuko being outcasted for being a gay girl.
After the girls make fun of her, something strange happens. A powerful and deadly gust of winds cuts right through the bus. It slices the bus and all of the girls inside in half, except for Mitsuko, who happened to bend down as it went by. The girls are all dead, with their bodies ripped in half. This is probably one of the most grotesque scenes in the whole movie, enough to make your stomach queasy. But even if this scene freaks you out, keep watching. I promise it is worth it.
Maybe I am looking too much into it, but I think the girls being killed is symbolic of how Mitsuko will never be one of those (straight) girls or will never be able to date any of them. After this event, Mitsuko is rightfully confused and terrified. She begins running away from the strong gust of wind. She is successful, and ends up at an all-girls school. (Notice how it is an all-girls school).
At this school, she meets her childhood friend Aki, who acts like nothing is wrong and tells Mitsuko that they need to get to school. Apparently, however, the two of them don’t go to the same school, so Mitsuko is even more baffled and panicked. Aki is able to calm down Mitsuko and convince her that everything is okay.
Note: If you have experienced some kind of break from reality that leaves you confused and panicked like Mitsuko, please seek professional help, such as an online psychiatrist.
This is where the yuri begins. These two girls are close. A little too close. Their body language suggests that they have feelings for each other and they are constantly holding hands. It gets even more blatant than that, though. Two other girls call Mitsuko and Aki lesbians, and when one of Aki’s friends asks if they are in love, Aki replies, “Yes, we are in love.”
No kissing or anything like that happens, but their connection is obvious. From here, Mitsuko, Aki, and their two friends Taeko and Sur (short for Surreal) skip class and have fun in the forest. This was probably one of my favorite sequences in the whole movie. It is done incredibly well and the surrealism is strong. There is one gory moment, where Sur explains that the tiniest ripple can make a huge difference. As an example, she imagines an alligator coming from a lake and eating Taeko. The scene is actually quite obnoxious and comical because it looks like the alligator is munching on Taeko’s private area. I don’t think this is a coincidence, though. It is one of many yuri symbols that are yet to come.
In reality(?), Taeko doesn’t really get eaten by an alligator, and the girls return to their school. And… this is where the teachers begin killing all of the students. Mitsuko’s friends, including her beloved Aki, are gunned down by a teacher, and Mitsuko is the only one of them to survive.
Keiko’s “Happy Marriage”
Mitsuko runs away from the school until she reaches the city and runs into a female police officer. However, the cop claims that Mitsuko is named Keiko. When she looks in the mirror, Mitsuko sees that her appearance is completely different! The cop also tells Mitsuko/Keiko that today is her wedding day. She forces Keiko into her car and drives her to a chapel. While they are driving, a crowd of women are banging on car. Only women. In fact, there are only women in the whole city.
When they arrive at the chapel, there are more throngs of women. They greet Mitsuko/Keiko and say they are happy about her marriage, except the bride-to-be is obviously not so happy herself. The group of girls are all very pushy, jostling Mitsuko/Keiko around like a rag doll. When they get inside the chapel, Mistuko/Keiko sees none other than Aki! She is overjoyed to see her and their connection is evident again. The girls try to push around the bride more, but Aki tells them to leave. Once they are gone, she tells Mitsuko/Keiko that they are in another world and that the other girls are evil. When the evil girls come back, Aki starts easily killing them. It is almost as if they are lifeless puppets.
If this scene were to have any deeper meaning, it would be that Aki (not a knight in shining armor) is the one saving Mitsuko/Keiko and she is beating down (literally) all the puppets that follow society’s expectations. Once they are dead, Aki gives Mitsuko/Keiko a broken bottle, and tells her to go into the wedding chamber.
The next part one of the strangest yet most significant scenes in the whole movie. Mitsuko/Keiko starts walking down the aisle. The room is filled with women cheering for her. Again, only women. There is no a single man in sight. At first, the women seem happy, but then they begin to insult Mitsuko/Keiko and start pushing her around. Next, something even stranger happens. The women begin to take off their clothes. In their underwear and bras, the women begin to hit Mitsuko/Keiko. It may seem like strange fan service on the surface, but I think it has a deep, metaphorical meaning. The women are taunting her. She likes women, she likes the female body- and yet she can never have that kind of relationship. Society won’t let her.
Then, the most blatantly feminist moment happens. As she approaches the altar, there is no groom. Only a coffin. Yes, a coffin. It signalizes how Mitsuko/Keiko feels like their life is ending. They do not want to be married to this man (or maybe any man for that matter). And it gets even more blatant when the coffin opens, and the groom is a disgusting, giant pig. Literally. He has pig’s head and a man’s body. The women (still in their undergarments) push Mitsuko/Keiko toward the pig, saying, “Kiss him! Kiss him!” Of course, she doesn’t want to go anywhere near him. The message is clear. She does not want to be with a male lover, but the pressure of society is trying to force her to. Mitsuko/Keiko stabs the pig, and a fight breaks out. Chaos ensues with Aki helping again. The bride manages to run away and she runs away down the streets in her wedding dress.
Izumi’s Race To Freedom
She runs and runs until she comes across a woman jogging who recognizes her. Only, she refers to her as Izumi. When she looks in a mirror, Mitsuko/Keiko is no longer wearing a wedding dress. She is in a running outfit and her facial features are completely different. Mitsuko/Keiko/Izumi (this is getting ridiculous, isn’t it?) begins running with the girl through the marathon and also meets some other girls who supposedly know her. As they run, they reminisce about their time together in middle school. Did I mention that Mitsuko/Keiko/Izumi has an entire crowd cheering her on, hoping that she will win the marathon? And guess what? The crowd is all made up of females. Again.
I believe that Izumi is another queer female and all of the women cheering her on represent how she wants to be with women. Mitsuko/Keiko/Izumi enjoy themselves as they run, but then a commotion happens. Two evil women from earlier appear and start pushing down runners as they approach our protagonist. Next, the pig-groom appears as well. In this situation, the race and pig-groom represent how Mitsuko/Keiko/Izumi are trying to run away from a normal heterosexual relationship. As the villains get closer, Aki appears! She tells Mitsuko/Keiko/Izumi to get out of the race and run elsewhere. She listens and hops over a fence, running through a field, with crowds of women and girls still cheering her on. (Yes! Stray from the regular path! Embrace the yuri path instead!)
Becoming Mitsuko Again
Mitsuko/Keiko/Izumi reaches a cave where she finds creepy school girls who claim it is her fault for their deaths. Once again, Aki shows up to save the day. When the danger has cleared, Aki turns to Mitsuko/Keiko/Izumi and tells her that the world they are in is fictional. Wanting Mitsuko to reclaim her true self, Aki tells Mitsuko/Keiko/Izumi to repeat the words “I am Mitsuko” until her words comes true (this part had really cool effects). She turns back into the first Mitsuko from the very beginning of the movie. She is happy, but then Aki holds out her arms that have course wires embedded in them.
Aki claims that Mitsuko needs to “destroy” her in order to open a new door and move on to the next world. Mitsuko doesn’t want to, but Aki insists. Mitsuko gives in and begins the agonizing process of pulling the wires out, which are interlaced through Aki’s whole body. This is another one of the most vulgar scenes in the whole movie, and you may want to close your eyes if you are squeamish. Mitsuko gives on last tug, and Aki is split in half. Then, a door opens up.
A Man’s World
In my opinion, Aki’s death represents how Mitsuko had to “kill” her feelings for Aki in order to move on. Because… the next world is The Man’s World. I am not even joking. Mitsuko walks through the door and into a place that is literally called The Man’s World. Here the yuri and feminist themes become obvious again. Although some of the women in the previous worlds weren’t the nicest people, appearance wise, they were always portrayed in a positive way. Girls wore white school girl uniforms that represent innocence, and women wore attractive or mature looking outfits. In all of the other worlds, the lighting was bright and clear and lucid. But The Man’s World doesn’t look like this. It has dark lighting with an unappealing yellow under glow. The men are shown shirtless or smoking. One is even wearing a speedo. And they are not portrayed to be attractive.
As she walks through this world, Mitsuko sees an advertisement for a video game. On the poster, the three main characters of this game are apparently herself, Keiko, and Izumi. She is confused by this, but turns around to see a man dressed in a suit. He recognizes her and tells her that he is surprised she made it so far. He claims it is the future and he sends her off somewhere.
Eventually, Mitsuko ends up in a strange building, where she sees real-like replicas of herself and other girls she encountered in the different worlds. She finds a very old man playing a video game. When she looks on the screen, she sees scenes from earlier in the movie. The school shooting, the crazy wedding, the marathon. The old man turns around and tells her that she died a long time ago. He claims he used her DNA and her friends’ DNA, and implanted them into a video game. It sounds silly on the surface, but the message is deep here. The video game represents how men like to exert control over women. Or it could represent how we live a world where society where men still hold most of the power.
Next, a young Japanese man appears (a younger version of the old man?), takes off his pants (he is still wearing underwear), and lays down on a bed. He pats the pillow next to him and tells Mitsuko to lay down. The old man also urges her to do so. This. This! This part portrays how Japanese society pushes women to date, marry, and sleep with men, even if they do not want to. The two men keep telling her to lay down, and Mitsuko finally does, despite being hesitant. The younger man goes on top of her because presumably they are about to have intercourse. But then Mitsuko remembers the advice of Sur from the beginning of the movie: “Life is surreal. Don’t let it get to you.” Sur was an oddball- someone who forged their own path. She represents nonconformity and doing what you want.
Mitsuko realizes this isn’t what she wants. In fact, she doesn’t want to be pushed around by anyone anymore. She takes the pillow she was laying on, rips it open, and starts smacking/suffocating the young man with it. The feathers in the pillow turn red. The feathers no longer have a predetermined fate. Mitsuko is making them their own. After the man is dead(?), Mitsuko walks over to the old man and grabs his cane.
She stabs herself with it.
Then, Keiko stabs herself with the broken glass bottle.
Next, Izumi commits suicide as well.
Normally, this would be terrible and sad. But these girls aren’t giving up their lives because they are weak. They are sending a message. You can’t control me. I am in control of my own life.
During the final scene of the movie is Mitsuko running through an empty field of snow. She is free. Free of other people’s control. Free of society’s pressure. Free to make her own decisions.
Overall, it is a powerful message. Queer women in Japan (and all over the world) need to stop caring about the opinion’s of others and pursue their own future. Each of the three different girls represent a female struggling with their sexuality. Mitsuko was a high school girl who was in love with another girl, but she was picked on for it. Keiko was a woman who was forced to marry a man she didn’t love because others forced her to do so. Izumi was a talented and determined girl, but she was running from some sort of male presence that was getting in her way.
Overall, this movie is incredibly violent, but it is also incredibly well done, visually and plot wise. I believe the violence represents all of the suffering that Mitsuko and other gay women have gone through in their lives, trying to come to terms with their own sexual identity.
I know it looks very weird based on the pictures and the plot description… but words can’t describe this movie. Go watch it.
As of right now, the movie is available on Netflix. If you are a yuri fan, LGBT advocate, or feminist, watch this movie. If you are okay with gore, go watch it. If you like strange and experimental experiences like Flip Flappers, please go watch it. I can’t guarantee that it won’t weird you out, but even if you don’t like the movie, you will have watched something like you have never seen before.