I mentioned in my review of Ai no Corrida that it was the lone film of recently-deceased Nagisa Oshima to make the list. I should have clarified that this was in my edition of the book; I was mistaken, in that he had another film make the initial list, that I was unaware of. That film is Taboo, or Gohatto, and the two share a similar backbone, even if the plots are two different sides of a coin. They both deal with an unorthodox romance; in Ai no Corrida, between a man and an unlikely woman, and in Taboo, between two men. Indeed, this film could be viewed as a precursor to Brokeback Mountain, though while that one was a pretty much straight-up romantic tale, this adds the romance angle into a web of intrigue and bakumatsu-era politics.
Kano Sozaburo is a young swordsman in training at an elite school of peacekeepers, a militia in the late 1800s era of Japan. He is quickly singled out for special treatment and chances to rise up in the organization, though it is not because he is the most talented rookie. Kano is unusually attractive for a man, almost in a feminine way, and it is this that stirs feelings in the other recruits and the higher-ups of the organization that they otherwise wouldn’t be susceptible to in the all-male ranks of the militia. Not that he does a whole lot to discourage these feelings; partway through the film, he openly acknowledges rumors that he and one of his peers are lovers, so everyone’s sexuality is thrown into question. The film itself, though, isn’t that bad, though it feels a lot older than when it was made in 1999; that may just be because it’s a period piece, but it almost feels like the film stock itself was older than the film should’ve been – if that is indeed because of the look and feel of the film’s 1800s-era setting, then kudos to the filmmakers for putting forth a more-than-expected effort. The acting perturbed me a bit, especially from the main character of Kano; the actor playing him seemed to think that showing no emotion whatsoever is akin to showing great emotion, but it doesn’t work that way – there has to be emotion underneath the stone face for one to get away with it, and there is none to be found behind Kano’s listless face. He pretty much always has the exact same expression, the one on the poster up there, and always utters his lines and reacts to situations in the same way. Whether that’s his fault or the fault of his director, though, I wasn’t sure.
The film is kind of like Y Tu Mama Tambien was, in that it takes its one aspect and hammers it, over and over, into your head. Near the end, however, this does take a turn into the mysterious, as an unknown assailant begins attacking the militia members, and the search begins to find out who it might be and how to deal with him, so there’s more than just the one aspect to this, even though it takes a little while to get to it. Still, aside from that and the whole man-man love thing, there’s really very little to this one; it’s a nice period piece, but there’s few reasons to actually go out and see it. It won’t be disappointing, but neither will it be gratifying. Some may consider that to mean it will just be a waste of time, and honestly, I’d have a hard time arguing against that. Give this a shot if it interests you, but if not, well, you’ll have to look elsewhere for a reason to try this one.
Arbitrary Rating: 7/10