Ihara Saikaku wrote in 1682 what would later become the epitome of the first modern Japanese donjuan, The Life of an Amorous Man (好色一代男 Kōshoku Ichidai Otoko).
At that time, the beginning of the relatively peaceful Tokugawa period, merchants started being more and more influential in the society and Saikaku depicts a flourishing one. But what makes this Japanese literary donjuan called Yonosuke different compared to his Spanish counterparts is precisely his lack of “manliness”, willing to accomplish his sexual desires through male and female prostitutes and the payment of money, and not risking his life for that; in one occasion he even shares a woman one night with another man –a menage a trois!- just to avoid fighting. Can you imagine a Western donjuan acting like that? The openly tolerated bisexuality of the time is depicted perfectly in the book when the narrator gives quantitative data about Yonosuke’s sexual conquests: until the age of 54, he had had respectively 3.742 and 725 female and male lovers.
Ohoku, the movie now showing in main movie theaters in Japan is a history-science-fiction story in a similar historical time (the beginning of the XVIII century) with a promising although not a really verisimilar plot: there is an epidemic in Japan that affects only men, and women end up becoming the ones in control of the military, etc. The female shogun keeps a harem from which she must chose the most beautiful and powerful man to become the father of her heiress. Well, the movie is basically about this sword and manners training harem and the homosexual relations among the beautiful samurais themselves, who look more like frivolous ladyboys than samurais, fighting with each other to be the cutest one, like in a hosto san TV drama. Of course, in the end the chosen one is the baby-face Mizuno –the actor’s name is Kazunari Ninomiya, alias Nino chan, who happens to be a celebrity in Japan in spite of his incompetence as for acting-, the only one who rejects the homosexual advances, not without a little bit of ambiguity. I think that this movie will disgust young Japanese female groupies at the same degree as it will also inspire still-in-the-closet Japanese males. But for sure, it will become a cult movie for the Gay world.
Apart from science-history-fiction movies, the bisexuality of samurais in that time is a historical fact not really known or accepted by the present and openly homophobic Japanese society. In the movie theater, a young crowd started emitting strange sounds of disappointment at the most explicit scenes, although since It’s Japan and not Brazil –I love Brazil, by the way-, nobody whistled. I wonder what will they answer when they be asked about the movie –I’ll try in class tomorrow.
Although movies are movies, and real life is a different thing, when I enter a restroom and find a queue of university male students standing in front of the mirror setting up their hair in public for more that 5 minutes before going back to class, I cannot avoid thinking that the world of frivolity depicted in the movie is not as far as many of those students might think.