Tag (リアル鬼ごっこ, Sion Sono, 2015)

tag posterYou could say Sion Sono is back, though with six films released within a year it’s almost as if he just nipped out to make a cup of tea. At first look Tag (リアル鬼ごっこ, Riaru Onigokko) seems as if it might be towards the bottom of the pile – school girls running away from things for 90 minutes whilst contending with awkward gusts of wind, but this is Sion Sono after all and so there’s a whole world of craziness going on below the surface.

The action begins with a gaggle of school girls on a bus. Two of them start ribbing the girl on the opposite bank of seats, Mitsuko (Reina Triendl), because she’s always writing poetry. The pen gets knocked out of her hand and as she bends down to pick it up she notices a white feather stuck to the clip. Gazing at the improbable symbol, Mitsuko becomes the only survivor when a sudden gust of wind blows the top off the bus taking all of the other passengers’ heads with it. Mitsuko starts running, re-encountering the dreaded wind monster over and over again before stopping at a stream to wash the blood off her face and change into the cleaner set of clothes she finds abandoned there.

After this she finds herself ending up at an entirely different school where everyone seems to know her. Has she gone mad, had a psychotic break? If not then then she’s about to as an attempt to ditch class with some of the other girls results in yet another freak school girl apocalypse.

Running again, Mitsuko ends up at a police box where another woman seems to know her but insists her name’s Keiko (Mariko Shinoda). Oh, and it’s her wedding day today! That’s not even the last time that’s going to happen and it’s far from the weirdest thing that’s going to happen to Mitsuko today. As a friend of Mitsuko 2’s reminds us, “Life is surreal, don’t let it get to you”.

Answers come, after a fashion. Though Tag is nominally based on a novel by Yusuke Yamada (previously adapted into a long running film series), Sono apparently did not even read the book and has only taken its theme – everyone with the same surname being hunted down and exterminated, and repurposed it for his own ends. This time rather than a common surname, it’s an entire gender that is forced to live under constant threat as the plaything of a far off entity that is as invisible and ever present as the wind. It’s no accident that everyone we meet up until the half way point is female, and that the first (presumed) male we meet is wearing a giant pig’s head. Mitsuko and her cohorts have in fact been used as a literal toy by the men on the other side of the curtain. Their very DNA has been co-opted for the “entertainment” of the male world without their consent or even knowledge, and even if she had known, Mitsuko is powerless to resist.

The solution that is found is both very old and very profound. It’s far from an original ending to this kind of story though in these hands, and used in this way, it can, and has, caused offence. Tag wants to ask you about life, about death, about agency and misogyny – but it wants to ask you all those things whilst watching school girls get ripped apart by the same wind that keeps blowing their skirts up. Sono has his cake and eats it too. There will undoubtedly be those that feel that far from satirising mainstream attitudes to women, Sono has, in fact, indulged in the worst parts of them.

If all of that was sounding a little heavy, Tag runs (literally) at breakneck speed with barely any time for conscious thought between the first bizarre case of gore filled mass murder and the next. It’s also strangely beautiful with a hazy, dreamlike veneer full of repeated images and scenes of idyllic serenity. Is any of this real? Who could really say. The ultramodern, indie score also strikes a slightly hypnotic note lending to the feeling of freewheeling weightlessness.

In many ways, Tag has much more in common with early Sono hit Suicide Club thanks to a general thematic sensibility than to any of his more straightforward work since. That said, Tag never quite resolves itself in a wholly satisfying way and though its final moments are filled with a poetic sensitivity, there’s a certain barrier created by its ambiguity that feels unfinished rather than deliberate. Another predictably “not what it looks like” effort from Sono, Tag may just come to be remembered as his most considered effort of 2015.


First Published on UK Anime Network in November 2015.

Playing at the Leeds International Film Festival on 18th November 2015.

Other movies playing at Leeds include Assassination Classroom, Happy Hour, Our Little Sister and Love & Peace.

Can’t find a subtitled trailer for some reason but to be honest you’ll get the gist of it:

Assassination Classroom (映画 暗殺教室, Eiichiro Hasumi, 2015)

photo_4First Published on UK Anime Network in November 2015.


You might make the mistake of thinking that the E in class 3E just means it’s the 5th 3rd year class, or that it stands for “elite” and contains some of the top students in the school. You’d be wrong, “E” stands for “end” because these are the no hoper kids that everyone’s already written off as having no future. However, it’s precisely these kids that a mysterious extraterrestrial being insists on becoming the teacher of in return for not destroying the Earth (just yet). Nicknamed UT (unkillable teacher), the giant yellow octopus-like creature has already destroyed 30% of the moon just for kicks and has now set the challenge that if the boys and girls of class 3E fail to assassinate him before graduation he’ll destroy the Earth too.

The ironic thing is, UT is the best teacher they’ve ever had, but to pass the course (and save the world) they have to kill him. The high schoolers are also under the tutelage of a self defence forces officer for their military training and a sexy assassin who randomly ends up becoming their English teacher (and giving them one of the least appropriate English lessons ever recorded on film). Every morning they bow and then pull out their various kinds of firearms as UT takes the register whilst flitting about dodging bullets. Despite wanting to destroy the Earth, UT is 100% committed to training his students both in the arts of assassination and in the more regular subjects. Because of his super speed and ability to be in several places at once he has time for everybody and is quick to work out each of his charge’s specific weaknesses and help them work on those to become better people as well as ace students.

Still, the students are supposed to kill their teacher and there’s a little bit of sadness creeping in as they inevitably grow closer to UT and his quirky antics. Up ’til now everyone has given up on them and now they’re supposed to kill the one person who’s actually trying to help. Of course, even while this surreal situation is going on these are just regular high school kids undergoing regular high school stuff like wanting to sneak into the girls’ changing rooms or having a crush on someone who hasn’t even noticed you. Despite the impending end of the world, the kids of Class 3E are just enjoying their time trying to work out ever more complex ways of trying assassinate their seemingly invincible teacher.

UT himself is strangely adorable with his giant yellow smiley face style head and bizarre little laugh. He also changes color according to his mood and has a tendency to go off on tangents with one notable example which turns into a long form ‘80s style melodrama about abandoned single mothers before being politely shut down by the bored students. Assassination Classroom is undoubtedly bizarre, surreal and full of absurd humour but all the better for it. It’s just very silly but has an undeniably clever and very witty script that proves near impossible to resist.

To put it mildly, Assassination Classroom is just heaps of zany, crazy fun. It also manages to be genuinely heartfelt as we come to care for this rag-tag bunch of no hopers but also for UT himself as we start to hope the kids will somehow fail and succeed at the same time so we can save both the world and UT. The film drops us a few hints about UT’s backstory but stops short of offering a full explanation for the crazy goings on. Thankfully a sequel, Assassination Classroom: Graduation Day is already in production and even if it doesn’t offer any answers, Assassination Classroom is already one of the most enjoyably absurd offerings to come out of Japan this year.


Assassination Classroom receives its UK premiere at the Leeds International Film Festival on 15th November 2015.

Look out for a review of Tag which is also playing at the festival as it Happy Hour, and Our Little Sister.