"Life is surreal; don't let it get to you".

So utters one of the young characters a little under midway through this latest offering from arguably the most interesting Japanese director of this generation, Sion Sono (LOVE EXPOSURE; COLD FISH; STRANGE CIRCUS etc).

This latest offering, a mixture of the surreal, the arthouse and the grindhouse, begins with a busload of schoolgirls getting massacred in spectacular style.

We're on ostensibly familiar ground: Sono opened his SUICIDE CLUB with the classic, jaw-dropping image of countless schoolgirls taking a leap together onto an active rail track. Here, the demise of said teenagers is not so voluntary. These girls are innocently enjoying the ride to school when a demonic gust of severe wind rips through the top tier of their bus, literally hacking each passenger in half. All of them, that is, but the demure Mitsuko (Reina Triendi), who had fallen to the bus floor at that crucial moment in order to retrieve her dropped pen.

Mitsuko flees the resultant bloodbath, racing along a deserted country road where the ominous wind chases her, Sono's frantic camerawork blatantly recalling the work of Sam Raimi and company on their seminal THE EVIL DEAD.

As the wind continues to chop passers-by in half, Mitsuko is bizarrely spared such a fate, and eventually makes it her way on foot to another school. There, the female students take to Mitsuko as if she's an old pal. When she professes not to recognise them - even self-proclaimed best pal Aki (Yuki Sakurai) - they reason that she must be suffering from amnesia. As the girls walk into their first lesson of the day together, Mitsuko shares the story of her morning's tribulations with them ... which she now believes to be nothing more than an extremely vivid nightmare.

Bunking out of class by mid-morning, Aki and Mitsuko are joined by the feisty Taeko (Aki Hiraoka) and Sur (Ami Tomite). They take to the woods, where Sur brings up Mitsuko's story again and elaborates on theories she has regarding whether destiny is predetermined, and if there are ways one can cheat fate. All of which feels more relevant while viewing the film than it probably comes across as being in this review. The girls return to school but their quiet is short-lived, as before long their teachers go apeshit and turn on the students with machine guns. Much more bloodshed ensues, Mitsuko managing once again to flee the scene.

As if events weren't odd enough by this point, Mitsuko's character then morphs into that of Keiko (Mariko Shinoda), a young woman preparing to be wed. The smiling guests - girls from the previous school, no less - and invitingly bright colours soon give way to a more nightmarish scenario as the groom is revealed to be sporting a pig's head and the congregation suddenly turn violent.

Keiko survives the unfolding slaughter, living long enough for her story in turn to morph into that of Izumi (Erina Mano) - a marathon runner who's about to encounter all manner of perils, both human (those schoolgirls are in evidence again) and paranormal.

In each of these bizarre situations, Aki appears as a confidante and best pal to Mitsuko and her other personas. As Mitsuko because increasingly aware that the chaos is centred around her, and for whatever reason people are dying whereas she is continually spared, Aki reveals what Mitsuko must do to proceed further, stop the wholesale slaughter and learn the truth ...

TAG is based on Yusuke Yamada's 2001 novel "Riaru Onigokko", which also inspired 2008's THE CHASING WORLD, Sono's film is a brisk 85-minute headfuck set for the most part in an all-female world where violence and beauty are eternally entwined. The threat is constant for these schoolgirls; the blood comes thick and fast, only letting up on occasion to allow for bite-sized philosophising. In the meantime, we have a few recurring motifs: wind, feathers, girls in short skirts etc.

Often technically breath-taking, especially considering this was but one of several films made by author/poet/director Sono during 2015, TAG is a whirlwind of visual ideas. The camera is constantly restless, often inventively so; editing is consistently adroit; a pulsating score marries with busy sound design to perfectly complement the racing visuals; compositions are frequently quite beautiful. Performances are adequate, neither remarkable nor noticeably lacking: it matters not, this is more about concept and execution.

Speaking of concept, TAG is a decidedly feminist statement. The final act, where Mitsuko learns the true nature of her trials and decides to undermine the reality of the situation by taking control of events, is an explicit cry against the objectification and exploitation of women. That's all I'll say, for fear of spoiling what is a pretty audacious reveal...

TAG comes to the UK in dual-format (blu-ray and DVD) courtesy of our pals at Eureka! Entertainment. We were sent a copy of the blu-ray for review purposes.

The film is presented uncut in full 1080p HD, housed on this region B disc as an MPEG4-AVC file. Its original 1.85:1 ratio gets a respectful representation and, of course, is automatically enhanced for 16x9 televisions. Colours are generally lukewarm but no doubt true to the HD camera origins; images are sharp, clean and largely pleasing to the eye. There are no compression or visual noise issues.

Japanese audio comes in options of stereo and 5.1 surround - both of which are uncompressed. There are no complaints here regarding either playback (though neither are particularly breath-taking either). Optional English subtitles are well-written and easy to read for the most part.

The disc opens to a static main menu page. There is no scene-selection menu and bonus features are unfortunately restricted to the film's original trailer.

I enjoyed TAG. I found its subtexts strong enough to warrant two repeat viewings; it helped while undertaking these viewings that the film is fast-paced, engaging and action-packed. It's also attractive enough to appease the arthouse brigade.

The film looks good on Eureka!'s blu-ray disc.


Review by Stuart Willis

Released by Eureka! Entertainment