Gohatto could have played under the title of a book about the homosexual liaisons that formed between some warriors in feudal Japan: Comradely Loves of the Samurai. The chosen title, however, means “taboo” or “prohibited”, but what is taboo and prohibited in this film is not so much erotic liaisons between men but insight into their real meaning. The movie is not about homosexuality, but about manipulation — how a pretty face, male or female, can compel others to do things they might never normally consider.
The director was Nagisa Oshima, the same man who gave us In the Realm of the Senses, another movie about unbridled sexuality opening a doorway to hell. Here he adapts Ryotaro Shiba’s historical novel Shinsengumi Keppuroku, and shows how the samurai code was a life-denying force, forcing its adherents to adopt behaviors that were not so much unnatural as inwardly and outwardly inhumane.
The movie is set in the 1860s, the years before the Shogunate collapsed and allowed the country to be Westernized. During that time, a militia named the Shinsengumi (the “Newly Chosen Corps”) sprang up, numbering several hundred men at one point, and doing their best to protect the Emperor (and Japan’s sovereignty, by proxy). They were ultimately doomed, but they became national heroes for their perseverance in the face of impossible odds, and barely a year goes by without a movie that touches on the subject. Some of the men in question indeed had homosexual bonds, but a fair amount of literature has sprung up around the subject to show that such relationships were more out of convenience than anything else and hardly indicated a culture-wide tolerance for homosexuality in general. Read more