Taboo (1999)

Dir. Nagisa Oshima

This might get a higher score from me if I had more time to digest it, but it’s definitely a film that has stayed with me; the type that does so because there’s a lot under the surface of my conscious mind. I think this is a good film and could be a worthy pick for the 1001 list. Picking which idiot would like this is difficult, although I probably wouldn’t recommend this to Don, Joel, Jill and John. I don’t know if I can say the remaining idiots would enjoy this, either, but I think they could find it interesting–the determining factor is subjective.

The film begins with militia of samurai looking for new recruits. Two are chosen, Hyozo Tashiro and Sozaburo Kano. Soon many of the samurai become smitten with Kano, and various conflicts arise. What’s interesting about the film is the way the filmmakers show these effects. Some of the characters openly express their attraction, while others don’t directly express any feelings, but their actions suggest that they are being deeply affected. I really liked that aspect of the film. Also, few films with homosexual characters often fail to connect with me, but this one really did for some reason. Kano is supposed to possess a mesmerizing beauty, and I could understand that. (The subtle reaction of some of the characters and the attractive power of Kano were the subjective aspects I was talking about.) What’s interesting is that Kano is also a very good fighter, too; and this seems significant, although I can’t explain the reason. Films with a female character (usually because of her sex appeal) getting in the way of male friendship is common, so this film is an interesting variation on that theme.

What does Kano represent? He’s young, almost boyish and innocent. He has an effeminate quality that either makes him see boyish or feminine. Yet, he’s also formidable fighter, in terms of strength and swordsmanship. What is taboo is not necessarily the homo-erotic feelings, but something else. I think a deeper problem is that the leaders of the militia overlook the effects and problems that Kano brings to the group because they are attracted to him, although not necessarily in a sexual way. Capt. Hijikata (Beat Takeshi) openly question whether his close colleague, Commander Kondo, now has “feelings” for Kano. Kondo denies this, and that may be true, but you also get a sense that he does have some kind of attraction for Kano, although not necessarily sexual.

At the end of the film, Hijikata cuts down a cherry tree in full bloom–which signified that beauty(?) (pleasure? longing for youth? powerful desire of pleasure?) has no place in a man’s world (not a samurai’s one anyone)? It’s a fascinating film that deserves a second viewing and more thought.

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