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Original Title:

Japan 1999


Nagisa Oshima

Ryuhei Matsuda
"Beat" Takeshi Kitano
Tadanobu Asano
Shinji Takeda
Yoichi Sai
Jiro Sakagami
Masa Tommies
Koji Matoba
Masato Ibu
Zakoba Katsura
Tomorowo Taguchi

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aka Taboo

Story: Sozaburo Kano (Ryuhei Matsuda) and Hyozo Tashiro (Tadanobu Asano) are taken in by the Shinsengumi. A militia that imposes law and order for the shogunate. Commander Kondo (Yoichi Sai) and Captain Hijikata (Takeshi Kitano) personally recruit the two new members. But Kano's female traits are soon the reason for some rumors afloat. It is said that Kano is interested in men and some men within the Shinsengumi are also interested in the goodlooking boy. First on the list is Tashiro, but there are also high-ranking members who have cast an eye on him. Kano seems to reject Tashiro, nonetheless, people say that the two are a couple. At the same time Kano has an affair with someone else who one day is suddenly found dead. Hijikata wants to find the killer and is astonished at how lenient even his superior Kondo is towards Kano. There seems to be no one who doesn't succumb to the young man's charms.

Review: In many respects expectations for Nagisa Oshima's film "Gohatto" were quite high. The director who gave us the infamous "In the Realm of the Senses" returns to his chair behind the camera after a 13 years break and a stroke. The end result is, to put it simply, sobering. There may be many critics who point out how profound this movie is, but the fact remains that "Gohatto" in large part simply leaves us with questions and can't motivate us to interpret the events depicted on screen with the things it shows. Even though Oshima's work without a doubt has its strengths they don't really lie in the story which turns out to be too minimalistic.

Those who expect a chambara movie will get disappointed anyway. There are only a few sword fights and mostly within a dojo. That's not what things revolve around after all, however, it has to be pointed out that they are a nice extra since they have been captured through continous shots without a single cut. That the movie takes place in the Edo period is of no real importance, though. Oshima often shifts his stories into the past to deal with modern problems. But what exactly the essence of his film is remains difficult to answer. That love harbors a destructive force? That it goes hand in hand with unfaithfulness, betrayal and jealousy? That's not really something new and once again shows how much Oshima is wrong in thinking that he created something extraordinary.

Strictly speaking the subject is dealt with in a rather shallow fashion and by far isn't that cleverly devised as the director wants us make to believe. The relationships of the different individuals aren't fleshed out appropriately. This simply doesn't catch our eye that badly since "Gohatto" is full of great actors. There is always something mysterious about the characters, which also is supposed to be a reflection of the movie's profoundness. With the text messages on screen and several time leaps we are also made to believe that we are presented with a story at whose end a new understanding awaits us. But Oshima leaves us in the dark concerning many things and demands of us interpretations that prove to be far less spectacular than we expected at first.

This kind of disappointment awaits us especially at the ending. Even after a second watch there are no great answers waiting for you and yes, "Gohatto" always gives you the impression that you might have missed something or just didn't get it. But it is actually clear why Soji goes back towards the end. On another occasion it isn't important how we interpret things and so the ending leaves us with a bitter disappointment. What's odd is also how historically inaccurate the film is. In military based institutions there has always been homosexual love. In Japan it was even normal if a warrior took a boy under his wings and they swore brotherhood and loyalty to one another. He taught him everything he knew and the two also had a sexual relationship which normally ended with the boy coming of age. This "shudo"-relationship was very commonly practiced and so you have to wonder why it maybe isn't really handled as a taboo in "Gohatto" but is still considered somewhat abnormal.

Despite all that a serene beauty lies within "Gohatto" that can be mesmerizing. The wonderful sets and shots stand as the movies true strength and there lies a power in the pictures that can't be denied. The great actors also add to the technical superiority of the movie. This special something the pictures and the story are promising to deliver isn't to be found in the end, though, which just makes things all the more frustrating. "Gohatto" is far from being a bad movie and there are enough reasons for it to be watched but at the bottom line it fails with a story that is way too shallow.

(Author: Manfred Selzer)
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