Herds of gay samurais (Gohatto reviewed)

{FILM DIARY}

Gohatto (Japan/France/UK, 1999)

Seen: Monday, 22nd June 2009 (DVD, repeat viewing)
Runtime: 100′
Director: Nagisa Oshima
Cast: Takeshi Kitano, Ryuhei Matsuda, Shinji Takeda, Tadanobu Asano
Production House: BS Asahi, Bac Films, Canal+, Eisei Gekijo, Imagica Corp., Kadokawa Shoten Publishing Co., Oshima Productions, Recorded Picture Company (RPC), Shochiku Kinema Kenkyû-jo
Plot: A mysterious teenager joins the militia. His comrades and superiors alike develop a very er… keen interest in him.

Trailer

Impressions In Short
Gay samurais are sexier than gay cowboys, but cowboys have better hairdos ;-P

More About the Film
I must have seen this for the first time around 2002. It was my first ever Ryuhei film and I became an instant fan (he was my first Japanese teen idol ;-P), but at that time it was hard to get any of his other films and I eventually forgot about him and didn’t renew my love until a few years later when I started getting into other Japanese teen idols *grin*
It’s funny looking back at this now. It was his d├ębut film and he was only 15 or 16 - even his voice wasn’t quite broken yet. It was a phenomenal piece of casting though. I remember reading somewhere that Ryuhei originally turned the part down, but later changed his mind. I wonder what they would have done if he hadn’t… It’s a really difficult part to cast. The film requires Sozaburo Kano to be magnetic - the audience needs to understand why all these herds of men are falling for him. And all this needs to be achieved with very restrained acting. Although I think Ryuhei is a better actor now than he was then, he was just perfect for the part.
On the whole, Gohatto is a very weird, but beautiful film if you get into the mood of it. It doesn’t give many answers as to what precisely happened though, so most of the plot needs to be interpreted. In fact, in past viewings of the film I thought I grasped what must have transpired pretty well, but after this viewing I’ve suddenly concluded that I missed some interesting clues ;)
In particular I somehow always missed the significance of Soji. What is he going back to do at the end of the film? I always assumed that Hijikata had gotten swept away by Kano’s magnetism like everybody else and his judgement of Kano gets more and more suspect as the film goes on. I still think that’s accurate, but because I assumed this I never gave much thought to what he insinuates about Soji and Kano. I’m not sure I go with the interpretation that Soji and Kano were lovers (I read some clever interpretations on imdb about that today :) ), but Soji does do a couple of fishy things throughout the film.
Another thing I saw somewhat differently this time round was Kano’s relationship with Yuzawa. In previous viewings I associated Kano almost solely with the judgement Hijikata makes about him at the beginning (that Kano’s attraction to the militia was “the smell of blood”) and with Kano’s own statement (he joined the militia “to have the right to kill”). That makes Kano into a kind of villain or oppressor. There’s a lot of coquetry in his behaviour, so I assumed that he had intended to use the interest he garners for his own dark ends almost from the start. Now I’m not so sure. It was always clear to me that Kano was rather far from enjoying Yuzawa’s “attentions”, but this time round it felt more like rape than it had done before. Yuzawa was, after all, Kano’s superior. He wasn’t as easy to shunt as some of the others. Was it Yuzawa who drove Kano into manipulating men for his own ends? Or even - were there more incidents like that with other men? There’s a conversation in which Kano admits to being courted by some of his superiors. He fiercely denies succumbing to any of them - including Yuzawa, which we know by then to be a lie. Like the Soji subplot, having men use Kano in this way is more in line with Hijikata’s judgement.

Recommended?
Yes, as long as you take into account that this is a very art house sort of movie. And also, you’re going to have to do a lot of detective work to come up with what precisely the plot of the movie is (it certainly does have one, but it’s subject to a lot of interpretation - especially the ending).
For Ryuhei fans this is an absolute must if you haven’t already seen it (is it even possible for a Ryuhei fan not to have seen this? *grin*).

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