Same-Sex Samurai

Article excerpt

Gohatto * Written and directed by Nagisa Oshima * Starring Tadanobu Asano, Ryuhei Matsuda * New Yorker Films

Gohatto means "taboo," and God knows, anyone who saw Japanese director Nagisa Oshima's 1976 sex odyssey, In the Realm of the Senses--with its clinical fellatio shots, all-geisha gang rape, and castration finale--won't be surprised that he's taken on a queer samurai love story set in 1865.

Based on novellas by Ryotaro Shiba, Gohatto uses the flouting of sexual norms as a metaphor for a society in transition--in this case, from the fall of the Shogun Tokugawa to the restoration of the emperor. Caught in the middle of this change was the militia opposed to the emperor, the Shinsen-gumi, a ragtag but fiercely self-disciplined band of samurai whose code of conduct was so strict, one could get one's head lopped off for borrowing money.

Shiba's story is about the last Shinsen-gumi, but Oshima's movie is so deliriously agog over the men's sex lives, you would think it was really about the first homosexuals on earth. In the fag Genesis, according to Gohatto, God didn't make Adam and Steve, he made Kano and Tashiro. Tashiro (Tadanobu Asano) is a rough-and-tumble creature of humble parentage who earns a prized spot in the militia on the same day as the ponytailed teenage Kano (Ryuhei Matsuda). Kano is a wealthy merchant's son of Olympian samurai prowess, ,stoic demeanor, and a beauty so fair and willowy that Hilary Swank could easily out-butch him in the Miss Hiroshima obi competition.

Given the samurai's severe book of conduct, it is delicious to contemplate that same-sex intercourse was so beyond the pale in the realm of taboos that no one bothered to write it in. …

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