Content Warning: Suicide and murder.
I watched “Tag” this summer after seeing it on the free movies section of YouTube. I wasn’t expecting much, but I was left utterly impressed. The film begins by introducing us to our shy and timid protagonist, Mitsuko (Reina Triendl, “Perfect Crime”). At first glance, “Tag” seems to be a typical slice-of-life film with a group of school girls on a bus going on a field trip. However, this is quickly interrupted when almost every girl is murdered by an invisible force, leaving only Mitsuko alive. We are transported into a horror atmosphere as Mitsuko runs from this invisible culprit that killed her schoolmates. She soon makes it to a school campus where she is recognized by a group of girls: Aki (Yuki Sakurai, “Where Florence Sleeps”), Sur (Ami Tomite, “Hikonin Sentai Akibaranger”) and Taeko (Aki Hiraoka, “Another”). While hanging out with the group of girls, Mitsuko begins to believe what happened earlier is just a dream; however, this bliss is short-lived. The teachers begin to attack and kill the students, and Mitsuko is once again the last one standing.
As she runs away, Mitsuko’s appearance and identity change in a bizarre fashion. She is first a bride, then a student runner. In both these identities, she encounters Aki, who still recognizes her as Mitsuko. Aki soon reveals to Mitsuko that they are living in a fictional world where everyone will continuously die unless Mitsuko, the “main character,” does something. The only way to change the game is to find the maker, but to do that, she has to kill Aki. Reluctantly, Mitsuko does so, finding herself in the fictional setting of “Man’s World.” She finds out that she, as well as her two other identities, are playable characters in a game titled “Tag.” Eventually, she finds the game maker, who is now an old man. He tells her the final stage of the game is for her to sleep with the younger clone version of himself. She attacks the clone and proceeds to commit suicide in each version of the game. She chooses to die, so her friends can live outside the confines men have created for them. Mitsuko’s suicide ends the cycle, but it also frees her from the control of men. She finally has the free will the game never afforded her.
Mitsuko, in many ways, is the embodiment of video game and horror tropes, specifically the final girl trope, “referring to female leads in horror movies who survive as the other characters are killed off … they escape or, infrequently, kill the attacker themselves,” e.g. Sidney (Neve Campell) from “Scream” and Laurie (Jamie Lee Curtis) from “Halloween.” The creator, in many ways, represents real-life misogynistic gamers. By having Mitsuko sleep with him for the final stage of the game, the creator exemplifies how sometimes men do not view women as people but rather as vessels for their own entertainment. There are many games in which the main guy gets to be with “the girl” at the end — e.g. “Uncharted” and “Devil May Cry 4.” The creator’s character showcases a lot of realities of the gaming experience: Many female characters in these games are teenagers, while the players who sexualize these girls are typically older men. Many games say they are “for all,” but it is clear that they cater to their largely straight male audience. While there are many games that diverge from this cliché, its prevalence has proven long and harmful, and it has even become an expectation.
An example of this is when the character designs for “Final Fantasy VII Remake” were released, specifically Tifa Lockhart. Some fans were downright outraged at the fact that her design now had smaller breasts. Square Enix even had to release a statement explaining why her breasts were now smaller. A nearly identical situation occurred with the release of “Mortal Kombat 11.” Even though some game developers are trying to change, they may be motivated to avoid losing their male consumers by continuing to sexualize women in their games.
Mitsuko is the final girl. She is the only one who can escape the game. To earn her freedom, she had to kill her friend Aki, essentially pulling the plug from the fictional world to the real world. Women can often find safety and peace being surrounded by other women, but this safety deteriorates when they are thrust into a “Man’s World.” The shift from the world of “Tag” to “Man’s World” is a rude awakening. Yes, this film has an atmosphere of horror, but there remains an undeniable bond between the group of girls. They are constantly supporting each other in their time of need. However, when we are transported into “Man’s World,” all these wholesome moments are tainted with a sense of voyeurism. These men view these characters as just that — characters — without knowing they are just as real. Even when these men see Mitsuko in their world, they treat her as if she’s invisible because, at the end of the day, to them, she only exists as a form of entertainment.
Now that more attention is paid to the sexualization of women in the media, many men have turned to sexualizing fictional women instead. However, this phenomenon could potentially exacerbate the issue by causing many men to view women as less than human. This is the main issue the film tries to warn us about, though I do not believe we are very far behind the world of “Tag”: This year, there have been many accounts of sexual harassment and assault targeting women in the metaverse as the virtual reality world becomes more popular. This is an issue not only in “Tag” but in other forms of media, like “Ungirls” by Lauren Beukes — where, in the near future, lab-grown sex dolls who can respond to pleasure or pain are the new craze. These dolls don’t think or feel, leading many men to use them as an outlet for both their love and hatred toward women. Though I do not have a solution for this, it’s important to acknowledge that even with this kind of sexual assault and harassment, existing online, it does not mean it is any less real. In the digital age, these forms of violence have taken on a new virtual life, and if we don’t acknowledge them for what they really are, the problem will only get worse.
Daily Arts Writer K. Rodriguez-Garcia can be reached at email@example.com.