In a thrilling comeback, Japanese director Nagisa Oshima (In the Realm of the Senses, Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence) has returned to the world’s stage with a powerful and confrontational work that tweaks the nose of Japanese machismo while delivering a smouldering exploration of gay desire. Blunt, often hilarious direct intertitles introduce luminescent scenes filled with Sirkian samurai melodrama bordering on satire, rough sex and awesome sword fighting. Oshima constantly seeks ways to knock us off balance and has no fear of bending and twishing the language of film.
The film is set in Kyoto in the spring of 1865. In the venerable Nishi-Honganji temple, the militia of Shinsengumi is selecting new recruits for training, men of outstanding fighting ability. Those in the running must square off against the best man in the militia, Soji Okita. When the dust settles, only two men are left standing. Hyozo Toshiro, a swaggering lower-ranked samurai, and Sozaburo Kano, a vain young man whose bewitching beauty attracts the attention of every man he meets, even those not prone to ‘such feelings’.
The two men who most desire the young samurai are Tashiro and Toshizo Hijikata, the militia captian. In typical Oshima style, these roles are played, respectively, by the hyper-masculine Tadanobu Asano and the toughest guy of them all, Takeshi ‘Beat’ Kitano. The result is wonderfully subversive and convincingly sexy.Japan/France/U.K., 2000. English subtitles. Colour. Dolby digital stereo. 100 min.