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Japanese Film  
 
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While alternative sexualities have long played a role in Japan's literary history, from bisexuality in Lady Murasaki's eleventh-century Tale of Genji to Saikaku's seventeenth-century Great Mirror of Male Love, homosexuality in Japanese cinema, except for rare feudal-era gay films such as Oshima Nagisa's Gohatto (1999), has been mostly informed by twentieth-century modernity.

Also, an odd experimental film such as Ichikawa Kon's An Actor's Revenge (1963) notwithstanding, post-MacArthur Japanese cinema never really created film genres derived from native traditions of theatrical transvestism in the way that Hong Kong films did.

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Rather, themes in Japanese cinema have drawn upon a cross-section of leftist political filmmaking, pornography, and popular trends in manga (comics) and anime (animated films), a complex of factors that continues to complicate attempts to read contemporary queer Japanese films in terms of Western, post-Stonewall politics.

Indeed, only in the 1990s did Westernized gay liberation movements gain momentum in Japan, in part because Buddhistic Japan has only recently adopted the Western notion of gayness and never had to deal directly with the underlying Christian sexual attitudes.

The 1960s New Wave Films

Although the samurai and yakuza (gangster) genres have always been open to homoerotic interpretation, the first authentic queer films in Japan were products of the 1960s new wave, a leftist movement concurrent with new wave cinemas in the West. Films such as Imamura Shohei's The Profound Desire of the Gods (1968), Hani Susumu's Nanami: First Love (1967), and Terayama Shuji's Emperor of Tomato Ketchup (1970) dealt with incest, child sexuality, and other taboos.

In this radical atmosphere, a few queer films such as Masumura Yasuzo's lesbian-themed marital satire Passion (1964, based on an early story by Tanizaki Jun'ichiro) and Matsumoto Toshio's transvestite black comedy Funeral Procession of Roses (1969) caused quite a stir.

But like many portrayals of deviant sexuality in the Japanese new wave, homosexuality in these films arguably amounted only to another means of shocking the bourgeoisie, rather than an attempt to establish a transgressive queer cinema.

One exception, perhaps, is Fukasaku Kinji's brilliant Black Lizard (1968), a baroque transvestite burlesque whose main concerns are the gender ambiguities of romantic attraction, unalloyed by sexual exploitation or politics.

Pink Films

Around 1963, Nikkatsu studios fostered a new film genre, the "pink film" (pinku eiga). At first an artsy kind of softcore sadomasochistic pornography, by the late 1960s the pink film had accrued radical political themes.

The best-known practitioner of pink films was Wakamatsu Koji, who, like Oshima Nagisa and other Japanese new-wavers, was heavily influenced by the radical student movements of late 1960s Japan, and whose depictions of anarchic sexuality became metaphors for the era's revolutionary politics.

Pink films--and there are literally thousands of them--are low budget, quickly produced, usually about one hour in length, and frequently feature lesbian images aimed, unsurprisingly, at heterosexual male audiences.

There are, however, also some pink films of legitimate homosexual interest: Nakamura Genji's Beautiful Mystery (1983), a satire of Mishima Yukio's "Shield Society"; Shimada Koshi's gay romance More Love (1984); Sato Hisayasu's surreal, Pasolini-obsessed Muscle (1988); and Oki Hiroyuki's Melody for Buddy Matsumae (1992) and I Like You, I Like You Very Much (1994).

It should be noted, however, that some of these directors are not necessarily gay themselves--Nakamura Genji was a prolific director of heterosexual erotica and Sato Hisayasu is best known for his sado-erotic horror films (such as Naked Blood [1995]).

Indeed, with the exception of directors such as Oki Hiroyuki or Hashiguchi Ryosuke, most Japanese directors of gay films are not gay-identified. We should remember that even seventeenth-century writer Saikaku wrote both hetero- and homosexual stories to please different audiences.

Manga and Anime

It is impossible to discuss queer Japanese cinema without emphasizing the importance of manga and anime. Since the late 1980s, animated erotica such as LA Blue Girl (1992), Demon Beast Invasion (1993), Twin Angels (1995), and hundreds of others have flooded video shops in both Japan and the West. Falling under the subgenre of hentai ("pervert"), these cartoons usually feature young lesbians with mystical powers and a penchant for blushing onanism.

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