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Taboo (2000)

Cast: Takeshi Kitano, Takeshi Kitano, Shinji Takeda, more...
Director: Nagisa Oshima, Nagisa Oshima
    see all cast/crew...
Studio: New Yorker Video
Genre: Drama, Foreign, Costume Drama/Period Piece, Japan, Gay & Lesbian, British Drama, UK, Features, Samurai
Running Time: 100 min.
Languages: French, Japanese
Subtitles: English
    see additional details...

After a 13-year absence, partially due to a life-threatening stroke, master filmmaker Nagisa Oshima returns to the silver screen with this revisionist samurai epic. From his first major film, Cruel Story of Youth to his most notorious work Ai no Korrida, Oshima has coupled the political and the sexual in a manner that transgresses all social norms. In this film, Oshima explores homosexuality among the ranks of the much hallowed samurai. The film is set in Kyoto in 1865 during a critical moment of Japanese history--the country's 300-year-long self-imposed isolation was coming to an abrupt halt leading to the end of the Shogunate. In its place came a more internationally-minded government with the Emperor as its nominal head. Feeling both their traditions and their grip on power threatened, samurai militia sprang up throughout the country to fight this foreign encroachment. One such group, the Shinsengumi, is auditioning new recruits at the film's opening. Commander Kondo (Yoichi Sai) and Captain Hijikata (Takeshi Kitano, a renowned filmmaker in his own right) select the ruggedly handsome Tashiro (cult actor Tadanobu Asano) and Kano (Ryuhei Matsuda), an effeminate lad with long locks and a thirst for blood. Worried about the perceived slightness of the latter, Kondo and Hijikata order Kano to perform an execution, which he does with grim aplomb. The lad's androgynous beauty soon raises the general blood pressure of the militia. While Tashiro snuggles up with him nightly, Hijikata, who suspects that something other than manly appreciation is going on between the two neophytes, also seems unduly interested in the youth. This film was screened in competition at the 2000 Cannes Film Festival. ~ Jonathan Crow, All Movie Guide

GreenCine Member Reviews

Fascinating film that makes me feel like I missed something important by hneline1 February 17, 2003 - 10:49 PM PST
9 out of 10 members found this review helpful
It's fascinating to watch the subject of homosexuality depicted in a Japanese historical melodrama. On the surface, the props, clothing, mannerisms, speech, and pacing are just like in a traditional samurai film. The strictness of the bushi code is well emphasized by the numerous rules that the Shinsengumi profess and by the penalty of death that is given to a member who breaks those rules. However, instead of the conventional plot conflict over breaking or following the bushi code, the conflict in this film is about handling an issue that is outside of the code. The Shinsengumi leaders know that Kano's attractiveness is causing tension within the tight knit group but they do not have a stated rule to follow about it, so they flail about trying to find an acceptable position and resolution.

I found the flailing around intriguing from a sociological perspective, considering how strictly moderated bushi society had to be. It's appropriate that this film is set during the end of the Tokugawa Shogunate and the beginning of the Meiji Restoration, when a lot of other societal issues had to be faced that were outside of regulated behavior. I was impressed by Beat Takeshi (Takeshi Kitano) as Toshizo Hijikata. The slow pacing and subtle dialogue may put off viewers who are not familiar with Japanese dramas, but I found it quite gripping and the few kendo and fight sequences were well done. Also, no, you're not going to get naked sex scenes -- the sexual situations are intense but understated.

However, I just didn't get Sozaburo Kano, the center of attraction. Perhaps director Nagisa Oshima wanted his character to be mysterious so that we can concentrate on the people around him, but I felt like there could have been more depth to the film if we saw more of Kano's motivation. Also, the very last scene with Hijikata was... well... cheesy. It was very symbolic, yes, but it seemed so melodramatic that I was left wondering how seriously Oshima wanted us to take it. So, yes, this is a fascinating film that explores an intriguing subject, but there are things in it that leave me confused like I missed something important...

GreenCine Member Rating

(Average 6.46)
153 Votes
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Cannes Film Festival & More - 2000
Official Selection, Certain Regards... and more. Here is a bit more information on the films screened at the Cannes. I have attempted to list all the films that were considered for an award as well as any special screenings.
2001: Jonathan Rosenbaum's recommendations
Top 2001 Movies from Jonathan Rosenbaum's article in Chicago Reader. I compiled these lists with the aim of one daying viewing them all. The comments below, if any are mine.

see all lists

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