Gohatto (“Taboo”) – Movie Review



DATE OF RELEASE: Dec 18th, 1999

MOVIE DURATION: 1 hour, 44 minutes

CAST: Matsuda Ryuhei, Takeda Shinji, Matoba Koji, Asano Tadanobu, Beat Takeshi,


Set during Japan’s Shogun era, this film looks at life in a samurai compound where young warriors are trained in sword-fighting. A number of interpersonal conflicts are brewing in the training room, all centering around a handsome young samurai named Kano Sozaburo. The school’s stern master can choose to intervene, or to let Kano decide his own path.


I think most people are looking at the movie from a single perspective. Who loved whom was never really the issue; the movie is overflowing with modernistic themes (as many have already noted) and self-criticism is at the focus of the story.

One of the most noticeable indicators is how the Shinsen-gumi uniforms were completely off, as the Shinsen militia was famously known for their white-and-blue uniforms. Thus not including them in  the movie was no mistake on the director’s part. Another indicator is how we never really find out much about Kano’s motives or his past and how inconclusive the ending is.

In fact, the whole movie is up for interpretation and not even watching it twice (which I did) would enable the audience to fully make sense of the events that happen throughout. In that sense, the movie tries too hard to be artistic or to transcend the setting and the time period into more abstract ideas and criticism pertaining to the modern Japanese society. What results is a messy string of scenes with characters we do not understand but somehow serve the director, Oshima’s, overarching purpose.

The events could have been set in modern Japan for all we care and the story would have retained its flavor and may have even fared better (since the characters tote some very modern concepts of sexuality). That kind of flexibility is not necessarily so bad when the director is trying to get a certain message across, but the problem is when the characters are so simply caricatured.

In the end, I’m left with more questions than answers and I have no idea what I just watched. Is it art, a daring work that tackles eroticism? Is it a criticism of taboos (especially ofthe homosexual variety)? I don’t know what ‘Gohatto’ is and I only have an inkling of an idea as to what it was supposed to stand for. Apparently, Oshima is not beginner when it comes to expressing what is, by society norms, considered taboo. Perhaps ‘Gohatto’ was yet another exploration of that taboo, which proved to be his last.

Back in December 1999, ‘Gohatto’ was a complete commercial success, but I wonder how many of the millions that flocked to see it left the cinema theaters with at least a basic understanding of what they’ve just seen.


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