From legendary director Nagisa Oshima comes a spellbinding samurai action-drama. In 1865, the Shinsengumi samurai corps is combing the new recruits for the next samurai warriors. Two are chosen: Tashiro Hyozo, a low-level samurai, and the dangerously handsome Kano Sozaburo. Rigid rules maintain order and unity, but the Shinsengumi finds itself wrought with rumors and jealously when Kano becomes the object of much fascination. (1 hour 40 minutes, 1999)
The famous and brutal Shinsengumi, the Shogun's last samurai police corps, responsible for a reign of terror against the bakufu's enemies, and infiltrated by homosexual samurai. Not what most people imagine when they think about the famed Shinsengumi of the 1860s but in reality homosexuality among the samurai was not all that uncommon. The Japanese name of the movie is Gohatto which roughly means taboo so with a name like that you pretty much knew what to expect with this film. Taboo is directed by Nagisa Oshima, one of the more highly regarded directors in Japan, and also stars Beat Takeshi. Beat Takeshi is excellent as usual in masterfully depicting the films meaning and the taboo of this time period.
This is really a quiet and plaintive movie, not a slashing sword fighting movie, but it does have an intense sword fight scene at the end. However, the plot of the movie really is rather minimal and essentially boils down to a lot of infatuated desire towards Kano. The difficulties and jealousies begin to emerge during the sparring sessions that highlight the sexual desires of a number of Kano's sparring partners. But maybe the film is deeper than it seems. A friend of mine from the Samurai Archives mentioned how she felt Kano's homosexuality was a smokescreen and I think I might agree. Maybe Kano's homosexuality and stunning looks are a tool he is using to gain power. Kano is no meek effeminate samurai. He is a bloodthirsty sword fighter who joined the Shinsengumi in order to have a license to kill. Kano is really using his beauty to gain power over the others in the organization. In reality, the meek and effeminate looking samurai exercises a much more subtle type of power in contrast to that of the power and authority held by Hijikata. Whether the homosexuality was a smokescreen or not, this was a decent film. Not amazing, not epic, not overwhelming, not shocking, but decent and I would recommend it.
Here is the trailer for the film.