Making and Breaking Taboos

Article excerpt

In the realm of the Senses director Nagisa Oshima talks about entering new realms of cinematic sexuality with his homoerotic Gohatto

Puncturing sexual boundaries has been a priority for Japanese director Nagisa Oshima. In 1976 U.S. customs refused to deliver a print of his In the Realm of the Senses to the New York Film Festival because of its explicit content. In 1983 the director went beyond heterosexual compulsion with the English-language World War II drama Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence, in which David Bowie's New Zealand army officer bewitches the tough Japanese POW camp commander who tortures him, played by composer Ryuichi Sakamoto. Now in his most recent film, the lush Gohatto (Japanese for "taboo")--for which Sakamoto has written the score--Oshima tracks the unsettling, sometimes deadly spell that a stunning teenage warrior casts on a number of men in his 19th-century Japanese paramilitary unit [see review, page 70].

"This film has contemporary relevance," says Oshima, speaking through a translator at the Cannes Film Festival, where his film was well received. "Why should we still have `don't ask, don't tell'? Very few people are willing to touch the theme of homoerotic undercurrents. But one cannot understand the world of the samurai without showing its fundamental homosexual aspect."

Oshima, 68--thin, gray, bespectacled--offers his pronouncements from a chair in a lounge at the Hotel Carlton, his cane propped next to him. He has slowed down since suffering a stroke four years ago just after he announced he would shoot Gohatto, but as if to emphasize that he's still determined to defy expectations, he's wearing a shirt decorated with cacti, homes, and clouds on a blue sky, along with tailored black trousers and expensive Italian shoes.

"Once I was told by someone that spending time with me was as lovely as being with a lovely woman," continues the filmmaker, who has been married to actress Akiko Koyama since 1960 and is the father of two and grandfather of three. …