Written and directed by Nagisa Oshima, starring Beat Takeshi, Shinji Takeda and Tadanobu Asano, Ryuhei Matsuda.
This is a curious film in that it straddles many genres and never quite decides what it wants to be. It's a historical samurai film, a gay romance, a murder mystery but it does not succeed in any of these genres.
'Gohatto' is set amongst a samurai troop formed to defend the government of the declining Edo era in the late 1860s. The masters of this troop – Toshizo (Beat Takeshi) and Kondo (Yoichi Sai) – hold fencing tournaments to talent spot potential new recruits. Two such recruits are taken on after impressing with their swordsmanship; Kano (Ryuhei Matsuda) and Tashiro (Tadanobu Asano). Kano is an immediate favourite with his superiors and peers more for his perceived beauty than his fighting skill. His fellow recruit, Tashiro falls for him only to have his advances spurned initially and then for most of the film the superiors muse over whether the two are lovers.
So the little tease, Kano, goes flinging himself around town and poor old Tashiro is said by the masters to be an inferior swordsman (do I detect some phallic imagry?) compared to his pretty lover. After Kano has bestowed his favours on another samurai, the poor eejit winds up sliced'n'diced, and an attempt is made on the life of another potential rival for Kano's affections. The finger of suspicion points to the jealous Tashiro. He is duly accused of the murder and master Kondo is a bit cruel to suggest that Kano be his assassin. Oh, but maybe Kano did it himself!? Who knows? Least of all me and I watched this wretched film right to the end, I swear!
If all this sounds exciting to you, well let me assure you it it's not. It's all very slow-moving and stage-bound, using the same corridors of the samurai troop and streets again and again. There's a subplot about enemy radicals and so we have a half-hearted fight scene, when Kano and an aged cohort raid their lodgings at night. It's not just because western audiences are completely spoiled with the amazing special effects and choreography in 'Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon', if there were an engaging story here, we wouldn't need sensational fight scenes, but here there is no such engagement.
The huge popularity of the annoying polymath, Beat Takeshi, writer, director, actor, editor, talk-show host and all-round annoying git, has always surprised me. Here at least he's only wearing his acting hat and cigarettes haven't been invented yet, so we don't have the interminable scenes of him smoking while staring meaningfully into space before/after he's riddled someone with bullets. It's actually a bit of a relief every time you see his lopsided grin after another lingering close-up of our 'beautiful' hero Kano.
In a mad big symbolic gesture, Beat Takeshi chops down a cherry tree at the end. Now I've ruined the ending, you've no reason at all to go to this tripe. They say beauty is a dangerous thing, but it would have been dangerous to have made this a minute longer than it is and at 100 minutes, its relative brevity is a beautiful thing indeed.