Taboo (1999)

NAGISA OSHIMA

Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBBB

Original Title: Gohatto

//, 1999. , , , , , , , , Screenplay by , based on the novel by Cinematography by Produced by , , Music by . Production Design by . Costume Design by . Film Editing by

Warring samurai squads in nineteenth-century Japan have their own homosocial orders within them, and in the elite Shinsengumi group, this order is thrown into disarray by the arrival of beautiful, young Kanō Sōzaburō ().  Kano is a master with a sword but possesses a dewy appeal that makes even the men who don’t think of themselves as having any sexual feelings for other men develop a Billy Budd-like obsession with him.  Kano takes one as a lover but does not exactly reject the advances of the others, creating a tension that threatens the group’s success in their campaign to defend their shogunate against powers that seek to reform the military order.  In truth, the ins and outs of the conflict between clashing groups of fighters is confusing to follow, and the plotting gets a little muddy in the middle, but Ôshima’s established fixation with finding the erotic element of all human concerns is potent, with a mysterious character at its centre who wields his power with the same cold precision that he applies to his sword.  Ôshima, here making his first film after a debilitating stroke and what would turn out to be his last, investigates the homoerotic tension present in the history of samurai culture with graphic emotions but not visuals, his emphasis on desire and restraint and it results in an intoxicating atmosphere.

Cannes Film Festival:  In Competition

Toronto International Film Festival:  2000

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