Taboo
[Gohatto]


          One of the hot button issues in the United States since the early
  1990s has been the service of homosexuals in the military. While gay
  men and lesbians openly serve in the armed forces of some of our allies,
  it is a divisive issue. In a rather ironic twist, though, the "Don't Ask,
  Don't Tell" policy currently in effect in the USA is at the heart of Nagisa
  Oshima's hauntingly beautiful film
TABOO [GOHATTO]. After an
  absence of more than a dozen years, during which he shot two television
  documentaries, developed an aborted project about Sessue Hayakawa
  and Rudolph Valentino and suffered a stroke, Oshima has returned
  to form. A meditation on the effects of homosexuality in the closed
  society of the samurai on the eve of its dissolution,
TABOO [GOHATTO],
  adapted from two novellas by Ryotaro Shiba, is only the second time
  this director has made an historical (that is, period) film.

          By the mid-19th century, Japan was in the process of "opening up"
  to the West. The first American ships arrived in July 1853 and the
  Treaty of Kanagawa took effect some nine months later. As Japanese
  ports opened to international traders, some within the country
  revolted against the Shogun. By the 1860s, a militia comprised of
  trained samurai called the Shinsengumi was created specifically
  to protect the Shogun. Oshima's film begins shortly after an uprising
  had been quelled while the Shinsengumi are recruiting new officers.
  Out of all the potential candidates only two stand out. Hyozo Tashiro
  (Tadanobu Asano), a low-ranking samurai, and Sozaburo Kano
  (Ryuhei Matsuda), a rich man's son with a preternatural beauty.
  Almost immediately Tashiro professes his desire for Kano and
  rumors suddenly persist over Kano's relationship. Because of his
  gifts and his extraordinary good looks, the young recruit soon
  is being courted by several officers. Only when some of those same
  officers begin to turn up dead do the commander (Yoichi Sai) and
  his lieutenant (Beat Takeshi) begin an investigation.

          In an interview included with the press notes, the director
  explains that he took on this project because in the past no one
  could broach the issue of homosexuality without being censored and
  because "in my opinion, one cannot understand the world of the samurai
  without showing the fundamental homosexual aspect." I suppose he
  should be commended for wanting to tackle such a topic.
TABOO
  [GOHATTO] certainly is visually stunning, thanks to the painterly
  cinematography of Toyomichi Kurita, the detailed period settings by
  Yoshinobu Nishioka and the costumes of Emi Wada. Coupled with the
  hauntingly beautiful score of Ryuichi Sakamoto and the understated
  performances, the film has much to admire.

          Still, I had a vaguely unsettled feeling after viewing it. The central
  character of Kano, captured by teenager Ryuehi Matsuda, is both
  compelling and unlikable. He has been directed to play the role as
  part-coquette, part cold-blooded killer. Like many blessed with good
  looks, Kano is aware of the effect he has on the other men, but does
  nothing to discourage the attention. He is something of an enigma but
  the hints about his motivations can be construed as disturbing and even
  vaguely homophobic.

          I would recommend
TABOO [GOHATTO], especially for its
  intriguing point of view about a closed society, but do so with some
  reservations.



                             
Rating:                        B
                             
MPAA Rating:              NONE
                             
Running time:              100 mins.
© 2006 by C. E. Murphy. All Rights Reserved.