"An action movie featuring homosexuals? Damn right."
TABOO is a film about (donít laugh) a gay samurai in 19th Century Japan. Directed by Nagisa Oshima, this film is no SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE skit though. Instead, it is a beautifully shot drama about a samurai militia in Kyoto in the spring of 1865 who is dealing with changing times, challenges to their power and a gay samurai who has stirred up the ranks.Sozaburo Kano (Ryuhei Matsuda) is a highly touted new recruit who has the kind of talent that the Shinsengumi militia need to remain the best in the politically fraught area. But Kano -- with his quiet demeanor, long hair and androgynous facial features -- looks enough like a woman that the other men are distracted.
Another recruit Tashiro (Tadanobu Asano) falls in love with him and they become an item. Pretty soon Kano becomes the object of many of the menís affection and the Commanders (lead by Beat Takeshi) have to find a way to deal with it. Whatís interesting about TABOO is that it doesnít have a negative view of homosexuality, as you may expect from a militia, but rather a negative view of the Commanders who donít know how to deal with the situation.
TABOO isnít as titillating or shocking as Oshimaís breakout hit IN THE REALM OF THE SENSES but it does have a little bit of controversy in its ironic humor. Mainly that Kano is a problem not because he is gay but because all the men in the militia want to sleep with him. Imagine remaking this film as a Western or as a drama about the U.S. Army and youíll understand some of the controversy.
TABOO is pretty tame by todayís standards, though, and it never delves too deep into the characters or the historical circumstances of mid-19th Century Japan. Instead it, fairly successfully moves along as an action samurai film with drama and intrigue crossed with a story dealing with the themes of honor, betrayal and lust among men.Oshima hasnít made a film for 14 years but he is in good form here and he has surrounded himself with a great cast and crew. On the tech side his Director of Photography Toyomichi Kurita utilizes gliding camera shots with lush lighting effects, and the dreamy electronic score by composer Ryuichi Sakamoto is one of the best of the year.-- Matt Langdon