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Japanese Film  
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While such lesbian-themed erotica for heterosexual male audiences is common wherever there is pornography, Japan is unique in that it also produces a prolific amount of young male homoerotic stories (shonen ai, literally "boys' love"), usually written by women for the voyeuristic consumption of young, heterosexual women.

Shonen ai themes in anime can include anything from coy homoeroticism and transvestism in Here is Greenwood (1991), to "taboo" gay romances such as Wind and Trees Song (1987, based on Takemiya Keiko's manga), Kigurashi Teruo's Homosexual White Paper: Man's Decision (1992), and Michihari Katsumi's Love's Wedge (1992), to the more aggressive gay erotica of Kodaka Kazuma's Kizuna (1995).

Japan has been most comfortable with queerness in manga and anime, perhaps because male and female characters are drawn similarly anyway, often with only hairstyles distinguishing genders. Furthermore, because Japanese censorship laws prohibit the "threat" of frontal nudity, the genital region is rendered as a blank slate, and what the artists draw is effectively a "neutered" or "third" gender.

This gender ambiguity has allowed for queer or gender-ambiguous characters to become a regular part of animated series popular with adolescents: an incidentally gay cop in the Bubblegum Crisis series (1987-1988), an ambisexual assassin in the Cyber City Oedo series (1990-1991), the farce of Takahashi Rumiko's Ranma ½, and even same-sex desire in the children's cartoon Sailor Moon.

Live action versions of manga and anime are also common, such as Kaneko Shusuke's Summer Vacation 1999 (1988, based on the 1974 manga Heart of Toma), in which the first-love yearnings of four teenage boys alone on summer break are enacted by four cross-dressed female actresses; and Hosoyama Tomoaki's outrageous satires Weatherwoman (1995) and Weatherwoman Returns (1996), which play like absurdist lesbian porn versions of Paddy Chayefsky's Network.

The "Gay Boom"

In the early 1990s, Japan experienced a so-called "gay boom," with homosexuality becoming a standard topic on television talk shows and in tabloid magazines, just as it was in the West, and Japan witnessing its first gay pride marches.

Gay novels such as Hiruma Hisao's sensationalistic Yes, Yes, Yes, Nishino Koji's coming-out narrative When I Met You in Shinjuku Ni-chome, and Fushimi Noriaki's Private Gay Life were popular with both curious straight women and gay men, and the television serial Dosokai (1993) marked a kind of watershed in gay visibility.

During this period, a number of generically gay (male) films were released: Kojima Yasushi's Rough Sketch of a Spiral (1990), a landmark documentary about the lives of urban gay men; Matsuoka Joji's fake marriage drama Twinkle (1992); Nakajima Takehiro's Okoge (1992); Hiroki Ryuichi's 800 2 Lap Runners (1994); and Hashiguchi Ryosuke's Slight Fever of a Twenty Year Old (1990) and Like Grains of Sand (1995), the latter promoted as the first commercial feature-length Japanese film about teenage male homosexuality.

While these films often do consider Western notions of gay rights, many are also framed in the shonen-ai terms of the female spectator; for example, Okoge, the only one of these films to have been widely distributed in North America (to date), is told from the point of view of a young woman fascinated by her gay male friends. Some gay rights activists in Japan, in fact, have criticized this trend for objectifying and trivializing the lives of gay men.

Furthermore, as the male homoeroticisms of the gay boom catered to the curious gaze of heterosexual audiences, lesbianism received short shrift, and one must look back to Yazaki Hitoshi's wistful romance Afternoon Breezes (1980) or ahead to Shindo Kaze's Love Juice (2000) and Shu Lea Cheang's experimental sci-fi porn I.K.U. (2000) for sincere representations of lesbian desire.

The Future of Japanese Queer Cinema

It remains to be seen what course Japanese queer cinema will take after the gay boom, whose films--with the exception of the upbeat Okoge--often seem more interested in creating a minimalist aesthetic of melancholy rather than expressing overt political points of view.

Furthermore, even allegedly outré Japanese cult films, rather than challenging bourgeois sensibilities in the style of the 1960s new wave, tend to appease heterosexual bourgeois audiences by presenting homosexuality as a curious, "taboo" spectacle.

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