by Greg Muskewitz
In cinema, not all returns or comebacks are a guarantee to be a good thing. Especially if you could not have missed their presence by being unknown to it. At least that's the case with me for Nagisa Oshima who is known for his works "In the Realm of the Senses," "Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence," "The Pleasures of the Flesh." Known to many, but not to me. And his first feature in 10 years (since 1991 with Kyoto, My Mother's Place" according to the press kit) and not 14 like J. Hoberman says in his review (though it would be 15 years from his previous feature, "Max My Love"), "Taboo" (a/k/a "Gohatto") would not be the kind of movie any filmmaker --returning or just beginning-- would want to set foot with.It's 1865 in Kyoto, Japan, and the Shinsengumi militia is recruiting new samurais to join their battles, or mission, or je ne sais quoi. Put up to the demanding task of facing off against the militia's top man, out of all of the hopefuls, only two meet the standards set by the militia's two supervising officers, Commando Kondo (Yoichi Sai) and Toshizo Hijikata (Beat Takeshi). The two who make the cut are Hyozo Tashiro (Tadanobu Asano), a low-level samurai, and Sozaburo Kano (Ryuhei Matsuda). (I must give immediate credit to the movie's kit for all the unmemorable names, places and descriptions!)
Kano is viewed by many of the samurais as a fair, pretty boy --too pretty, with long hair that suggests youth and girliness. Straightaway many of the men are attracted to him, but Kano's attention is caught by Tashiro, who makes his territory known. The story, adapted from Ryotaro Shiba's novel, doesn't tell much of a story. It's focus spastically falls around other men who pine for Kano, those he interacts with, and very little more.
It seems like the idea of homosexual samurais sounded like a topic of controversy, and judging from what the kit tells me about Oshima's other movies, he seems to like that status. Granted, where his other movies seem interesting in why they're considered controversial, it is a lot more than you can say about this. The idea or promise of taboo-breaking is hardly evident as an action, but more so as a matter of the spoken word, and there is very little interesting offered on the detriment of such a thing in the first place.
"Taboo" has a terrible sense of time continuum, scatterously jumping from time to time without signal or development, but instead descriptive narrations seemingly lifted from the book, telling what they were too lazy to show. "Taboo" is quite a bore, filled with amateur performances (especially Matsuda, not to mention the fact that he hardly fits into the category that all the men seem to think, appearing more disfigured), soporific direction, and cheesy swipe edits, all too reminiscent of "Battlefield Earth." I felt as if I learned nothing about the time period, the views of homosexuals in the militia (outside of a lot of jealousness, territorialism, lust) except for asking the question, "I wonder if he leans that way," or what the point of any of the time period's dilemma was. No matter how great a filmmaker Oshima may have been (and still can be), I see no reason to create any hullabaloo about "Taboo."
http://www.landmark-theatres.comFinal Verdict: D-.
link directly to this review at http://www.efilmcritic.com/review.php?movie=4593&reviewer=172
originally posted: 04/11/01 15:12:43