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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

Anma to onna / The Masseur and a Woman

Anma to onna / Masseurs and the Woman (1938)

No, the masseurs is not a midget in the movie

Director: Shimizu Hiroshi
Writers: Shimizu Hiroshi
Date: 1938

Genre: Comedy
Description: Blindness, real sight, whodunnit, running away, friendship, theft, small town characters

Cast: Takamine Mieko, Tokudaiji Shin, Himori Shinichi, Bakudan-kozo, Saburi Shin, Sakamoto Takeshi, Miura Mitsuko

Crew of note:

Runtime: 66 mins.
Color: BW
Trivia: Has a 2008 remake, Yama no anata

Two blind masseurs, Toku and Fuku, go to a resort town for work. A relationship form between Toku and one of his patrons, the beautiful but mysterious Michiho. A host of different characters are present, such as Shintaro and his restless son Kenichi, a group of hiking students, and other patrons among the inns. Confusion ensues, however when thefts begin to break out, and everyone becomes a suspect. Though they can’t see a thing, it becomes immediately obvious that the blind masseurs can see a lot more despite their eyes.

A very light and amusing comedy about blind masseurs and their interaction with people in a small onsen town. Really great performance by Tokudaiji–he really does seem blind, and his comic timing with his clumsiness is perfect. perhaps too perfect. It really makes you wonder; is he blind, or is he the only one who knows what’s going on?

Though there doesn’t seem to be anything pushing the story along, aside from the minor whodunnit, Shimizu is able to use his blind characters as a mirror for other characters, perhaps humanity if you want to read into it too much. The banter between Toku and Fuku is wonderful, and their comments and suggestions throughout the movie are delightful. It’s difficult to imagine a more memorable pair of blind masseurs.

At only 66 minutes, it is easy to say that the movie is too short, but it isn’t. Every minute runs like poetry; shots could be more than just pictures and words could be more than just what they mean. There is a reason Ozu claims that he cannot shoot movies like Shimizu, and this movie is a great place to start enjoying his work.

A must watch for fans of comedies with layers of depth and introspection. Enjoyable, light, and short.. there’s no reason not to watch this. Unless you’re allergic to black and white. It’s a disservice to discuss this movie at length, because it really has to be seen to be understood.

things to take note of
The sliding/gliding camera
The blindness?
Toku’s face

best moment
The very first long scene on the road up the hill

why you should watch this
One of the most intelligent and meaningful comedies from the 30s. Shimizu certainly was more cheery than his contemporaries..

rating: 8.4

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

similar movies, maybe:
Kanzashi / Ornamental Hairpin



November 2020