Entertainment » Movies

Queer Japan

by Roger Walker-Dack
EDGE Media Network Contributor
Saturday Oct 12, 2019
'Queer Japan'
'Queer Japan'  

The LA-based Canadian filmmaker Graham Kolbeins set himself an impossible task with his new documentary "Queer Japan." Although it is both intriguing and thoroughly entertaining, it is also very obvious that 90 minutes is certainly not long enough to comprehensively cover the whole spectrum of LGBTQ culture in Japan.

Although somewhat uneven in parts, Kolbein's glimpse at how traditional Japanese society is slowly embracing the queer community does have some fascinating glimpses into the lives of a few of the more outrageous and larger-than-life characters in the community.

Kolbein starts his investigation in Tokyo, which now boasts an LGBTQ district with more bars/clubs/stores than any other major city. It is also more diverse than most, with not just an impressive number of lesbian bars, which are closing everywhere else around the globe, but also some specialized venues that cater for people on the extreme ends of the queer spectrum.

Favorite scene was the self-identifying female performance artist with a major rubber fetish who constructed a giant rubber pig from which rubber-clad piglets came out and sucked on her breasts in the most surreal manner. Wonderfully bizarre.

Gengoroh Tagame, the famous manga artist, makes for a fascinating interviewee as he explains how he explored his own love of sadomasochism by starting "G Men," one of the first 'hentai' anime and manga pornographic explicit gay magazines in Japan. He combines that with an all-ages manga series, "My Brother's Husband," that teaches young kids about being gay.

Interesting enough, Tagame had co-founded "G Men" with the publisher of "Badi," a more generic gay magazine that started in 1994 but has ceased being published this year, whilst "G Men" goes from strength to strength.

The highlight of Kolbeins' look at the queer scene in Kyoto is an interview with Simone Fukayuki, a famous drag queen, who totally ignores the four muscled (and near-naked) men behind her who are touching each other up. Her legendary party, "Diamonds Are Forever," which has been growing strong since the 1990s, has the most diverse crowd ever, proving that whatever part of the spectrum you sit on, there is a home for you.

Kolbein seems to be implying that the queer scene in Japan is wonderfully healthy, but then, halfway through his film (which incidentally sticks to major urban areas), he starts to point out some of the negative aspects.

Whilst the transgender community may have their own bars and safe places now, the fight to be able to legally change their gender officially ended up with an impossible compromise. Aya Kamikawa, the one elected transgender politician, had sponsored the law, which was amended to stipulate that any person who wishes to officially register as another gender must first have their reproductive organs removed.

Also like the West, Japan has also seen the resurgence of a racist far-right movement that has the LGBTQ community in its sights.

Credit to Kolbein for keeping your attention to the end credits, even though this would all been better served by being a series, which would have allowed the subject to be explored more in depth a series. This is an intriguing look at a queer community that we now would like to know more about.

Roger Walker-Dack, a passionate cinephile, is a freelance writer, critic and broadcaster and the author/editor of three blogs. He divides his time between Miami Beach and Provincetown.

Seattle Queer Film Festival

This story is part of our special report titled "Seattle Queer Film Festival." Want to read more? Here's the full list.


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