JAPAN: Tag (リアル鬼ごっこ, 2015)

Our Trauma, Their Turn On: The Tragedy of a Japanese Schoolgirl

by Mia Stryker

Please read the crafter statement before watching the video essay.  Thank you.

To say that Tag (2015) is a complicated movie would be an understatement. When I showed it to three of my friends, I received 3 entirely different answers when discussing what the movie’s message was:

  1. It is criticizing the treatment of women in Japanese culture through portraying the creator of the video game as a sleazy old man and hyperbolizing many of the social issues Japanese women face. The violence against women is meant to be satirical and representative of society’s hatred towards women.
  2. Sion Sono is capitalizing off of controversy and actively contributing to the sexualization of teenage girls. The gratuitous violence against and extremely one-dimensional writing of women also betrays the film’s more misogynistic elements. It’s not like Sion Sono doesn’t have a history of this, remember Suicide Dolls?
  3. Why are you showing me a porno? Like, someone is jacking off to this. Sure, there’s technically a plot, but it’s pretty clear that this is just an excuse to make cute girls suffer as part of some fetish. Wait, you’re doing a project on this? Why are you doing a project on a porno?

Please take everything I say from here on out with a grain of salt, since my interpretation of Tag is far from universal and this film is sometimes incoherent. This is my honest attempt to give this movie something resembling themes and a central thesis.

Sion Sono’s film Tag depicts the experience of a young woman named Mitsuko, the unwitting and unwilling protagonist of a violent and sleazy video game, as she struggles through the trials and tribulations her video game puts her through.

In their scholarly article on Japanese beauty standards, Laufey Magnúsdóttir discusses the importance of youthful beauty within Japan, especially as a young woman whose cute physique is considered ideal (Magnúsdóttir). The usage of violence against young, cute girls in Tag, a horror movie, reflects the high value Japanese society places on beauty. Additionally, the fact that the movie specifically features cute schoolgirls reflects how Japanese schoolgirls are considered bastions of innocence, however the schoolgirls within Mitsuko’s videogame are extremely sexualized (with convenient wind and camera angles that give the viewer a clear view of their panties). This presents a phenomenon that is rather unique to Japan: the sexualization of schoolgirls and the presence of an international audience for that sexualization (Le). Throughout the film, the trauma Mitsuko experiences is often displayed at ‘attractive’ to the point where an entire group of adult men are masturbating at the mere sight of the schoolgirl and her alter egos on a poster. She is displayed as a sexualized, traumatized young woman whose suffering is attractive.

Another valuable idea to note is the role body horror plays into Tag, especially considering the type of carnage inflicted on the women within the videogame. In an article title ‘Contorted Bodies: Women’s Representation in Japanese Horror Films’, scholar Katelyn Terry discusses how involuntary brutalization of women disempowers and wrenches control of the female body for the enjoyment of men, especially when a penetrative object like a knife is involved (Terry). This sexualized suffering displays the lack of concern for Japanese schoolgirls as anything outside of cute, sexy young women.

Mitsuko is the embodiment of the innocent, adorable, attractive schoolgirl. Writing her poems and having pillow fights with her friends, the teenage girl’s life seems like a stereotypical dream. But as violence and horror begin to follow Mitsuko everywhere she goes, her picturesque image and psyche begin to decay. Mitsuko morphs into a bride and the schoolgirl hardens into a traumatized and violent woman as her innocence erodes, moving through crowds of women dressed in nothing but lingerie as she stabs everyone who might stand between her and survival. The more trauma she goes through, the more Mitsuko’s mind seems to unravel. This leads up to Mitsuko losing sight of even her own identity, until she eventually manages to emerge from the videogame world and meets the man behind her suffering. The man reveals that his dream has always been to have sex with Mitsuko and motions her over to his bed. Mitsuko joins him.

Every bit of suffering the girls in the video game world faced is due to one man’s sexual desire over a schoolgirl. The deaths of Mitsuko’s friends were caused by him. Mitsuko’s metamorphosis from a kind, innocent schoolgirl into a traumatized mess who barely remembers her own name was caused by him. Sono personifies the fetishistic attitude towards Japanese schoolgirls and displays the harm that attitude causes through Mitsuko’s suffering. Perhaps my third friend was right when they called this film trauma-fetish porn. Perhaps my second friend was right about Sono contributing to the sexualization of Japanese schoolgirls and rooting his film in misogyny. Perhaps there is something of merit in this film, as my first friend claimed, and Sono expertly criticized how Japanese culture treats young girls. Mitsuko, like many other young people who were subjected to trauma by a source outside of their control, does not care about the reason behind her suffering. She just wants it to end. The schoolgirl screams at her tormentor to stop playing with girls like toys, before killing both him and herself.

Tag is a complicated film and Sion Sono is a complicated director, but the narrative they put forth reflects two simple issues that Japanese schoolgirls face: sexualization and dehumanization. As Mitsuko faces a razor-sharp wind and pig-headed ‘husbands’, Japanese schoolgirls face a media that portrays them as sexual beings and then blames them for their own suffering as men all over the world begin to fetishize them. I can only hope that the girls in the real world can be freed from their parasitic relationships with gross pigs who spew misogyny and victim-blaming excuses. I can only hope that things will get better for teenagers who never asked to be sexualized. I can only that they will not need to escape their suffering like Mitsuko did.


  • Le, Mina. Let’s Talk about the Japanese Schoolgirl. Performance by Mina Le, YouTube, YouTube, 24 Jan. 2021.
  • Magnúsdóttir, Laufey. “Alluring Faces: Beauty Standards in Japanese Society through the Ages.”
    Skemman, University of Iceland, Sept. 2015.
  • Terry, Katelyn. “Contorted Bodies: Women’s Representation in Japanese Horror Films.” EBSCO Host, 2018.


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