review for Taboo on AllMovie

Taboo (1999)
by Tom Vick review

By setting a tale of homoerotic desire and jealousy in a regiment of macho samurai warriors, lifelong provocateur and instigator of the Japanese New Wave Nagisa Oshima proves that has not mellowed with age. But what's most interesting about the film is how little it actually shocks. The characters, and specifically Captain Hijikata (Takeshi Kitano), the only character to whose inner thoughts we are privy to, through a voice-over narration, seem to find it perfectly natural that an attractive youth would inspire lust in other men, and the samurai who become attracted to the beautiful and deadly Kano (Ryuhei Matsuda) make no secret of their desire for him. But the fact that their desires are out in the open does nothing to stop the wave of jealousy that eventually escalates into bloodshed. Featuring gorgeous tracking shots that recall the work of fellow Japanese master Kenji Mizoguchi, and filmed in a rich, blue-black color palette by cinematographer Toyomichi Kurita, Gohatto moves at a languid, contemplative pace, propelled by Hijikata's sparse narration and occasional texts that either emphasize the rules the militia lives by or offer intriguing, opinionated comments on the characters, as if the septuagenarian Oshima has given himself to right to comment on his own handiwork. Desire, fear, beauty, and death are all linked in Oshima's universe. In Taboo, these forces reach the boiling point against the backdrop of the samurai's strict code of conduct.