Fwd: Gohatto

Mark Anderson ander025
Fri Oct 26 14:25:50 EDT 2001

>X-From_: cmarran at Princeton.EDU Fri Oct 26 13:24:04 2001
>Date: Fri, 26 Oct 2001 13:26:42 -0400
>From: "Christine L. Marran" <cmarran at Princeton.EDU>
>Reply-To: cmarran at Princeton.EDU
>Organization: Department of East Asian Studies  Princeton University
>X-Mailer: Mozilla 4.61 [en] (Win98; I)
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>To: ander025 at umn.edu
>Subject: Gohatto
>Hi Gwyn,
>I haven't noticed a deterioration in film quality because my eyes are
>deteriorating.  But I did notice a deterioration in Oshima--to be
>expected since he fell ill during the shoot (I guess).  I have a review
>of Gohatto in the NYC journal Persimmon, which I've attached below.
>Andrew Grossman also has a compelling review at
>I am sending this mail via Mark Anderson because for some reason, though
>I am subscribed, I am unable to send mail to the list.
>Reviewed by Christine L. Marran
>Famed Japanese director Nagisa Oshima's long-anticipated film Gohatto
>which premiered at the New York Film Festival last year, was long in the
>After announcing that he was going to direct the film, based on the
>Shinsengumi Keppuroku by Ryotaro Shiba, Oshima suffered a stroke in 1996
>and had
>to postpone work on it for three years. This first full- length feature
>Oshima in fourteen years met with box-office success in Japan,
>production company Gaga Communications to rerelease there Oshima's ever
>controversial, acclaimed film In the Realm of the Senses (1976). This
>was the
>first time that the earlier film had been shown uncut in Japan (an
>ironic twist
>for a film recounting a true story of castration), although censorship
>in the
>new version took the form of blurred images during the previously cut
>In some respects, Gohatto resembles In the Realm of the Senses: both are
>of love and jealousy that result in the dramatic death of an unwitting
>lover. As
>Maureen Turim points out in The Films of Oshima Nagisa: Image of a
>Iconoclast, the most comprehensive study in English of Oshima's films,
>inability to achieve coital satisfaction except through violence is a
>motif in his works. Set in 1865, Gohatto depicts the violent intrigue
>develops when a beautiful young man enters the ranks of the shinsengumi
>militia-a group of practiced samurai who were specially selected to
>protect the
>shogunate against the imperial army's quest to regain power after a
>lapse of
>three hundred years. The period setting of this film also marks a final
>stage in
>Japanese feudal history, before the intrusion of Western ideologies and
>into the country.
>None of Oshima's films, except perhaps In the Realm of the Senses, has
>paid such
>loving attention to traditional Japanese aesthetics. Gohatto is drenched
>specters of a fantasized "Japanese" past through staged scenes of an
>Zen-like aestheticism reminiscent of the similarly anachronistic In the
>Realm of
>the Senses, for which traditional ukiyo-e prints were an inspiration. In
>Gohatto, night scenes with large drooping moons and foggy marshes lend
>otherworldliness to the haunting beauty of the murderous protagonist.
>is filtered through the musty fencing rooms, with their smooth wooden
>floorboards, unadorned walls, and paper doors.
>The events of the film take place only three years before the imperial
>army took
>control of Japan. This setting of the film on the eve of a new era of
>Westernization and "enlightenment" evokes a haunting sense of loss-the
>loss not
>only of a Japan unsullied by outside influences but also of a
>masculine beauty. In interviews after the production of In the Realm of
>Senses, Oshima explicitly described his nostalgia for premodern Japan,
>which he
>envisions as an erotic realm of desire unsullied by puritanical Western
>Gohatto centers around the amorous goings-on among the various samurai
>of the shinsengumi militia that occur after a smooth-faced youth named
>(Ryuhei Matsuda), whose glowing white garb bounces along with his
>ponytail as he
>proudly strides across the smooth floorboards of the group's confines,
>them. Upon entering the ranks of the elect fighting group, this
>beauty is hounded by the sexual advances first of his cohort Tashiro
>Asano), who joins the shinsengumi with him, and then others. Once Kano
>the advances of a fellow militia member, he is secretive about the
>while entertaining advances from others. This duplicity causes murderous
>among militia members anxious to disrobe Kano. He is, in short, an homme
>whose beauty proves destructive to those who take him.
>Unfortunately, in this tired avant-garde eroticization of death, we are
>given no
>motivation for the seemingly vengeful acts of murder committed by Kano.
>The only
>break from sometimes sleazy sexual innuendo is a single truly moving sex
>between Kano and his second, jealous, lover who soon, predictably
>perhaps, meets
>his demise. In the deadly game of love, only Kano knows the rules, which
>this viewer unmoved and uninvolved in the deaths that occurred
>Perhaps the most disturbing aspect of this film lies in its jokes, which
>on the question of "homosexual tendencies." The lust spreading through
>shinsengumi like libidinal malaria becomes the source of quaintly
>observations made on occasional intertitles in the film. All men hunger
>for a
>taste of the youthful beauty Kano, all except a "heterosexual" sergeant
>rejection of Kano ignites the young man's affections. It seems as if
>Oshima was
>torn between making a film celebrating a premodern (liberated) libidinal
>within an elegantly masculinist order, and a comedy. This might explain
>choice of Takeshi (Beat) Kitano as the main observer of Kano and the
>through which the story is told. Kitano stars on Japanese national
>television in
>his own comedy show and has directed several films that glorify a
>samurai code in modern-day yakuza settings. Far from providing us with
>either a
>gay comedy or an engaging drama, Oshima spins a simpleminded yarn about
>tyrannical boy who is unsympathetic because he is so flatly drawn.
>The "sexual tendency" jokes are disturbing because they are based on the
>premise that such notions as "homosexual leanings" existed in this
>period, which
>they did not. Male-male love was certainly a common-enough feature of
>life. It was in no sense "taboo." The irony of Gohatto is that it is
>perhaps the
>only Oshima work that is not about sexual repression and taboo. Oshima,
>time, merely goes through the motions of playing out sexual taboo in
>film. The
>insidious aspect of the film is that it aligns, in
>fashion, homosexuality with sexual pathology. This is not new, however,
>Oshima who in In the Realm of the Senses, aligns so-called perverted sex
>practices with sexual psychopathy in his portrayal of the jealous lover
>The only taboo in Gohatto is the creation of dissension within the group
>shinsengumi. Concern for the harmony of the group drives the elder
>captains to
>devise a plan for eliminating the disruptive effects of Kano's presence.
>In this
>sense, Oshima's film paints a picture not so dissimilar from the one
>painted in
>Robert Whiting's book about Japanese baseball, You Gotta Have Wa. This
>broadly describes Japanese behavior as driven by an overriding
>desire for group harmony (wa). It reiterates the absurd but commonly
>notion that Japanese, as a cultural group, are pathologically focused on
>maintaining group identity over individual desires. Compared with
>earlier, daring films of rebellion, desire, and violence, this elegiac
>tale of
>masculinity and valor is little more than a vehicle for a resilient
>Gwyn wrote:
> > Hi
> >
> > I'd just like to say a belated thanks to everyone for the information
> > Murakami! It was all extremely helpful and has helped sort things out
>for me
> > a bit better.
> >
> > On another note I saw Gahatto last night in a cinema over here and was
> > wondering if anyone had any particular opinion on it? I found it okay
>but I
> > am beginning to feel let down by anything I've seen in the cinema
> > including Battle Royale. However, none of my friends feel the same!
> > else noticing a dwindling in film quality?
> >
> > Gwyn
>Christine L. Marran
>Department of East Asian Studies
>Assistant Professor of Modern Japanese Literature
>Princeton University
>cmarran at princeton.edu
>Christine L. Marran
>Department of East Asian Studies
>Assistant Professor of Modern Japanese Literature
>Princeton University
>cmarran at princeton.edu

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