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Tag (2015), Feminism & Fan Service

Sion Sono's Tag (2015) is a gore-filled, insane mind-bending trip through fan service, the male gaze, and the queer identity. Gabe talks about subverting horror tropes to make a statement and yuri love. Kat talks about oppression of LGBTQIA+ folx in Japan.

Sources in this Episode:

Fantasia Fest 2015: Sion Sono Plays a Riotous Game of TAG. With Schoolgirls. Things Get Weird.

Violent Japanese Horror Movie Tag is a Strange, Surreal Yuri Metaphor

The Nail That Sticks Out Gets Hammered Down” LGBT Bullying and Exclusion in Japanese Schools

Why Japan Can’t Shake sexism?

Other Reviews on Tag:

'Tag' Review: Sion Sono Channels 'Alice in Wonderland'

Japanese Movie Tag or Riaru Onigokko Unpacked

Tag: A Reclamation Story For Survivors - Film

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Tag (2015) Director/Writer: Sion Sono/ Yusuke Yamada

Summary by IMDB: A girl's life cascades into chaos as everyone around her suffers a gruesome fate while she becomes less certain of who she is and her once-once normal.


Tag: A Fan Service-Heavy, Incredibly Violent Feminist Film?

by Gabe Castro

RED: Quotes, someone else's words.

Tag is an incredibly gratuitous film. Whether regarding the gore and violence towards women or the oversexualization and fan-service shots. Sono goes above and beyond to make the viewer uncomfortable. We chose Tag after seeing the opening scene online which gives Final Destination a run for its money. It features a bus full of young schoolgirls having fun and ridiculously enough, having a pillow fight on board. The quiet and studious protagonist drops her pen (she writes poems) and crawls onto the floor to retrieve it. During this, a mysterious force rips through the bus, resulting in each and every one of the girls and women aboard to be graphically sliced in half. The film then follows our heroine, Mitsuko, as she stumbles her way into bizarre and surreal experiences that have you asking, “What is going on?” almost constantly. The film never takes itself seriously and yet, always does. Fan service is immediate and so exaggerated, the characters laughing off the wind blowing up their skirts to reveal pink underwear, or the silly recurring spontaneous pillow fights, that you have to realize the joke is its very existence. For anyone who doesn’t understand what fan service is, it is material in a work of fiction or in a fictional series which is intentionally added to please the audience, often sexual in nature, such as nudity. Our friends at Beyond the Bot have some interesting videos about fan service in anime.

Sono sets out to overindulge in some of horror’s and japanese media’s favorite film techniques - gore, mutilation of female bodies, and the oversexualization of female bodies. I have always been a fan of gore and quite enjoy some of the more absurd films. Eli Roth was one of my favorite directors for some time. Though, recently I watched just a clip of Hostel and was sick. Why did any of us watch that? I digress. The gore in this film, like the fan service, is rather comical in how ABSURD it is. Including a scene in which teachers start shooting the teen girls with militaristic machine guns (which would be rather traumatic and triggering for american teens). The direction taken with the gore and violence is, honestly, comical. Whereas horror films that abuse female bodies to be edgy and serious, looking at you Last House on the Left, this film leans more towards Evil Dead in the gushing of blood and absurd scenarios. It even borrows the sneaking camera technique from Evil Dead to reflect the incoming evil wind that slices young girls in half.

While I absolutely understand and can clearly see the intent in the film's third act, which reveals the thesis statement in such a way that leaves little need for guessing, I still wonder at what point we consider it less a critique and instead, just another film contributing to the problem? I think of Hideaki Anno’s Neon Genesis Evangelion film, a direct rebuke and commentary about the fans who thought they were owed a specific ending. How he used the oversexualization and incredibly uncomfortable scenes with women (cough - Misato kissing Shinji cough) as a way to reflect the disgusting expectations and desires of the anime fanbase. Sono is certainly doing this. Kat is going to disagree with me on this but I think this can be seen as a feminist film. I totally understand the critiques as we felt it strongly in Invisible Man in that we question what validity the film can have when made by men. But we’ve seen what happens when a film, made by women, can still be catered to the male gaze and flop, Jennifer’s Body. I think Sono’s thoughts are obvious and intentional. In an article on Cinapse titled, Fantasia Fest 2015: Sion Sono Plays a Riotous Game of TAG. With Schoolgirls. Things Get Weird. By James Carey. There is discussion of the lack of men being represented and when they are in the film, they are seen in a disgustingly negative light. Sono is not kind to men in this film.

Heading an almost exclusively female cast, Reina Trendl delivers a great central performance as the perpetually pursued Mitsuko, scared out of her wits as her world crumbles around her, yet strong enough to keep surviving against psychotic authority figures, a scary wind, and… pfft… men. Whilst deliberately few and far between in the cast list, men don’t come out of this tale particularly well, invariably portrayed either as sexual deviants, deranged control freaks, or, quite literally, pigs.

And it’s true that these girls are powerful as much as they are victimized by the fan service wind. They embrace their sexuality, use language unfit for a young, respectable woman, and eventually kick ass. My reason for choosing this film, for this series, was because it was so often tagged (get it) as feminist. With the character Sur (because she’s surreal), we get to question our reality and find the power to push back. She tells our heroine that the only way to break free from fate is by an act of surprising daring. Carey goes on to say in their article,

Suffice to say, things are not what they seem, and accusations of misogyny are quashed as the refreshingly weird and unpredictable narrative flirts with big, philosophical ideas as much as it revels in the violent deaths of adolescent schoolgirls.

*Now entering spoiler town*

In act two, we transition from girls-running and being traumatized to women straight up murdering other women. This act changes the flow and expectations of the film, keeping the audience confused and curious. Mitsuko is now a woman named Keiko who is about to get married. (Her groom is revealed to be a man with a pig head, not very subtle). She is stressed, as usual, as she is ushered into the chapel and forced to get ready to marry a man (which, mind you, we haven’t seen a SINGLE one this entire film). She finds comfort in seeing her best friend Aki (whom I was hoping she was going to marry, I’ll speak more on the queer ideas later). Aki explains she knows more than she previously let on in our last scenario and instructs Mitsuko/Keiko to MURDER ALL THE WOMEN. And then she shows her how, by just breaking these people in half. What follows is equally absurd action scenes of Keiko and Aki tag teaming and breaking/butchering/murdering women in the chapel.