Taboo Movie Review
The recruiting of a skilled but effeminate young warrior creates a cancer of impulsive desires, rumors and jealousy that eats away at an esteemed 19th Century samurai militia in Nagisa Oshima's new psychosexual drama, "Taboo."
The men of this tight-knit unit all come to either admire the young enlistee for his talent with a sword or, unexpectedly, lust for his soft features and coy social demeanor -- or more frequently both. The eventual result is upheaval in the camp, as the boy (Ryuhei Matsuda) becomes the object of lust, scorn and gossip while taking various lovers, fending off others and at the same time trying to adhere to his duty as a samurai.
The film's characters are largely fascinating and enigmatic, especially the boy -- who absentmindedly toys with the affections and fury of his admirers -- and a lieutenant who seems to be the only person in the camp keeping his perspective. (The lieutenant is played by "Beat" Takeshi Kitano, the actor-writer-director whose poetically violent gangster films have made him a Japanese cinema icon.)
Oshima creates a vivid yet vaporous atmosphere of both honor and artifice. But too often a mix of overly formal presentation, overly flowery dialogue, and nebulous symbolism drive a wedge between the action and the audience. The admirably uncommon story is undermined by points of confusion that extend all the way to the portentous, confusing ending, which must have lost something in the translation.
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