Tag’s denouement reveals a twist: Mitsuko’s world, and all its horrors, are fantasy. When she exits her nightmare, she enters a male-only world. In “The Male World,” Mitsuko, Keiko and Izumi are all video game characters; their ordeals constructed to entertain men. An old man––so worn by age that he appears rather grotesque––explains to her that she is now in the future:
“You died a long time ago. It was in the spring of 2034. I got hold of a sample of your DNA. And your friends’ too…I bet you couldn’t have imagined that your DNA would be used for our entertainment. How’s that?”
He reveals a horrific display of objectification: Mitsuko and her friends’ bodies cloned and exhibited in a glass case, like taxidermy animals. A younger version of himself (Takumi Saitō) appears, promptly undresses, and beckons Mitsuko to join him; his older self does the same, iterating that it is her “destiny” to fulfill his desire––to sleep with him. Mitsuko finally erupts in protest, ripping apart one of the pillows. As feathers fill the room, she yells: “Don’t play with us like toys! Stop it! Stop playing with us!” Without hesitating, Mitsuko grabs the old man’s cane and commits seppuku, her wound spitting out a flurry of red feathers. Back in the bodies of her video game aliases, she commits suicide repeatedly, effectively removing each version of herself from the male-created fantasy.
The film culminates with another drone shot: Mitsuko lies in a vast white, her body a mere speck against the snowy landscape. The camera slowly descends on her, and she exclaims: “It’s over. It’s over now.” She stands up and runs, leaving a trail of footprints in the snow. The camera moves, trying to keep up with her, but she disappears from view. All there is to be seen is the snow’s blinding whiteness. The camera plunges into the ground, as if without Mitsuko, it can’t even support itself.
Sion Sono’s Tag is horrifically exploitative. For the majority of its hour and twenty minutes, an excess of mutilated female bodies fills the screen. But the exposed blueprint of patriarchy underlies the “flash-trash exploitation gorefest.” If, as Pinedo writes, “danger to the social order is endemic” to postmodern horror, then Tag exposes just how deeply ingrained fear of the woman is in patriarchal society. To maintain itself, patriarchy necessitates violent abuse of women. I suspect women that watch Tag identify with Mitsuko––the male-gaze fueled horrors are only exaggerated articulations of our lived reality. But do men need such extremes of violence to wake-up? What does that say about patriarchy––and about postmodern horror?
*Tag (dir. Sion Sono, 2015) is available to stream for free on YouTube.