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Gohatto / Taboo

Gohatto / Taboo (1999)

The least gay cover makes little sense, strangely

Director: Oshima Nagisa
Writers: Shiba Ryotaro, Oshima Nagisa
Date: 1999

Genre: Chambara
Description: Bushido, samurai code of laws, violence, homosexuality between samurai, whodunnit!

Cast: Kitano Takeshi, Asano Tadanobu, Matsuda Ryuhei, Takeda Shinji, Sai Yoichi, Sato Kei, Terajima Susumu

Crew of note: Music by Sakamoto Ryuichi

Runtime: 100 mins.
Color: Color
Trivia: Last film by Oshima

Kano joins the Shinsengumi, a militant group during the end of the Tokugawa Era, and apparently, he’s a hot piece of ass. A couple of dudes start trying to pick him up, and soon, they start getting chopped to bits. Suspicions arise as to the identity of the killer, but nothing is certain. Except that I’d rather go for Asano than Matsuda any day of the week (that’s our little secret).

This film is not about homosexuality. Yes, it’s part of the movie, but it isn’t the point. Homosexuality between some samurai was not entirely uncommon during this day, and the characters in this film (Kondo and Hijikata in particular) even poke fun at it. If it is accepted and even openly talked about, how can it possibly be a taboo?

Well, it isn’t, and the English title tries to take advantage of the homosexuality to make it the drawing-factor of this film. A good marketing ploy, sure, but it distorts what the film is truly about. The original title, “Gohatto”, translates to something more akin to “laws” or “code of conduct”, which, by the way, doesn’t include anything about homosexuality. Keep that in mind while watching, and take note of the Shinsengumi’s laws (and bushido in general).

Oshima is never just about sexuality and the physical manifestations of desire. That is only the surface. He delves deeper, focusing on true motives, the source of desire, the nature of desire, and our inner animal. This film is no different; it is Oshima’s work, through and through. In Kano, we have that inner animal, desire unrestrained by inhibition or morality. We watch to understand. But can we?

The film being a tad boring at times, doesn’t help. Those squeamish about homosexual relations will find some parts off putting too. The pictures are beautiful though, especially in the dark, and Sakamoto is brilliant. Yet I was left scratching my head after this one; I knew whodunnit, but that still didn’t seem enough for me to understand everything that had just happened.

This is a twisted, twisted movie, both in the execution of its narrative and its themes. It will keep you guessing from the start, and even when things are revealed, it will still leave you baffled. Does anyone really understand desire? What do we desire, really? Did I even understand everything about Kano at all? Hijikata seems like the only dude I’d want to have a beer with by the way.

A caveat: this film might not be as deep and complex as I’d like to think it is. But, it also isn’t just an exploitative homosexuality film.

things to take note of
The Japanese title
That wonderful score by Sakamoto
Pay attention or you won’t understand a damn thing, even when you know what happened
Shots in the dark, where things come alive

best moment
Kitano + sakura tree
Mild jokes about the homosexuality (no it isn’t insensitive)

why you should watch this
This is Oshima’s last movie
Kitano plays a wry, witty, and unique Hijikata Toshizo (usually depicted as grumpy and ruthless)
Whodunnits with samurai are uncommon
Shinsengumi movies are always interesting

rating: 8: a strong movie with a false reputation. It might have more meaning, it might have less. I’m not sure?

Plot: B
Cast: B+
Cinematography: B
Music: A
Entertainment: C+

similar movies, maybe:
Dai-bosatsu toge / Sword of Doom (yes, really), directed by Okamoto Kihachi


Sonatine (1993)

I have no idea what this cover means, seriously

Director: Kitano Takeshi
Writers: Kitano Takeshi
Date: 1993

Genre: Yakuza, Drama
Description: Yakuzas at the beach having fun, gang wars, living life despite being a gangster

Cast: Kitano Takeshi, Terajima Susumu, Kokumai Aya, Osugi Ren, Watanabe Tetsu, Katsumura Masanobu, Zushi Tonbo, Yajima Kenichi, Minakata Eiji

Crew of note: Music by Joe Hisaishi

Runtime: 94 mins.
Color: Color

Murakawa is a Yakuza quickly rising through the ranks, accumulating influence and power along the way. Rival bosses and the Godfather start to get jealous, and they send him and his gang to Okinawa to settle a gang dispute that everyone knows is impossible to fix. After a few mishaps along the way, Murakawa and his buddies decide to hide out for a while, before contemplating their next move.

Tattoos, guns, violence, hot chicks and black Mercedes Benzes. These are usually the things associated with Yakuza, along with a reputation for being cool badasses that cut off their fingers and shoot people. Lots, and lots, and lots of people. Though there’s a lot of violence in this movie (machine guns, grenades, blabbybla), for long stretches it’s easy to forget that the central gang in this film is a bunch of ruthless gangsters.

This is one of the few movies that shows a group of Yakuza not being yakuza. Not exactly “normal lives” because of the circumstances, but certainly more normal than their everyday activities. The film “humanizes” them–I suppose that’s the terminology–, but the more appropriate thing to say, I think, is that the characters are simply allowed to do nothing, to get bored, and to experience the monotony of.. a bunch of guys stuck at the beach. Bored out of their nuts. And it’s fascinating.

Kitano is known for serene moments interrupted by bouts of violence–it’s his thing–and we’ve seen it many times since. That doesn’t make it any less effective, because Kitano, Terajima and the lot are all natural comedians in Yakuza’s tattoos. It’s almost a frat-comedy, but with guns, blood and middle-aged men.

In the end, the movie still sticks to some Yakuza film formulas, and once you’ve seen enough Kitano, it’s easy to predict what will happen.. but this really is just another Yakuza movie, with the “boring” parts include.

We all know movie Yakuzas are badasses. But what happens when they’re bored (in between jobs)? Well, pretty much this movie, sandwiched between their normal Yakuza lives. Fascinating really is the word, because this is a side of Yakuza not often seen, not often heard, not often this interesting.

things to take note of
The comedy + the violence
The gang’s transformation as they hide out

best moment
Sumo wrestling
Laundry and shower day

why you should watch this
A Yakuza comedy action drama
Kitano shows a bit of his comedy side along with his tough Yakuza routine
Susumu Terajima, the omnipresent sidekick

rating: 8.6

Plot: B+
Cast: B
Cinematography: B+
Music: A
Entertainment: B

similar movies, maybe:
Hana-bi, directed by Kitano
I don’t think there are many movies where Yakuza’s actually do any of the things they do



November 2020