Review: Taboo (Gohatto) (1999)

Directed by:
Cast: , ,

Not available in Australia on DVD (to our knowledge)

There are two main reasons you might want to watch Taboo:

  1. You enjoy watching some sword-wielding samurai action;
  2. You like looking at beautiful young Japanese men.

On both those counts, Taboo is bound to satisfy. The samurai swordplay has the plenitude of droopy pants, flashing blades, and stern-faced shouting that one requires of a samurai flick, while the two young leads are, and I shall put it mildly in order not to be confined to quarters for a week, indeed well worth looking at.

The plot is surprisingly subtle, dealing with the issue of homosexuality in historic Japanese society. The practice is not condoned, but is generally treated with tolerant amusement, except when it gets out of hand, as it does in this case. The seniors mostly accept that homosexual behaviour can happen when you bunk a lot of men together with little access to women, something that several armed forces I could name would do well to consider. The film’s makers also manage to convey an understanding of the difference between those who are exclusively homosexually oriented and those who, for whatever reason, dabble only occasionally.

The film also tries to delve into the murky realm of the darker motivations, although not entirely successfully. The lead character, played by the very beautiful Ryuhei Matsuda (son of famous actor Yusaku Matsuda), has some dark secret that drives him to isolate himself emotionally while being very accessible physically, but I couldn’t really fathom what it was. Perhaps you’ll have better luck.

The casting works well: the mysterious lead has an unearthly beauty, while Tadanobu Asano, recently seen lighting fires in Woman Of Water and carving up the screen in the controversial Ichi The Killer, has a devil-may-care charm and energy that’s irresistable (or perhaps I just need a good lie-down). Then, of course, there’s the marvellous Takeshi Kitano, who has a confident presence as the second in command. Any film with Kitano in it gains immeasurably. A couple of support characters lend depth to the company with quirky performances that lighten the tension. Overall well worth a look.

7 Baggy Trousers out of 10.
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