Review: Egoist

Serendipity can come in various forms. Daishi Matsunaga’s new movie about a homosexual relationship arrives in theaters a week after Japan’s ruling party embarrassed itself by saying the public (read: the ruling party) isn’t ready for same sex marriage, and then stepped even further backward when it was revealed that an aide to the prime minister admitted to reporters that he couldn’t countenance LGBTQ couples. Some might say that this is the kind of publicity Matsunaga’s movie doesn’t need, while others will counter that there’s no such thing as bad publicity.

Egoist, of course, isn’t the first Japanese feature film to address the subject, but in many ways it’s the boldest and most self-consciously responsible, which isn’t always a good thing if it draws attention to the fact. Ryosuke Hashiguchi’s 2015 integrated omnibus, Lovers, took a subtler approach to gay love by presenting it in an almost banal fashion, though the overall effect was anything but conventional. Matsunaga gets fairly explicit with the sex because he obviously feels that the viewer needs to understand how these two people connect, and as he explicates the respective living situations of the two principals, Kosuke (Ryohei Suzuki) and Ryuta (Hio Miyazawa), he focuses on those aspects that speak to their marginal status as sexual minorities in a social milieu where they still have to be careful about exposing that aspect of themselves. In most Japanese movies that deal with sexual minorities, this approach can be reductive, but Matsunaga, adapting a semi-autobiographical novel by Makoto Takayama, has enough confidence in the story to trust that the audience will take the relationship depicted both seriously and to heart. 

The story is simple yet vivid. Kosuke, whose mother died when he was young, escaped his sheltered life in the suburbs for the big city, where he flourishes as a fashion editor and cultivates friendships in Tokyo’s gay community that have enriched his life without actually filling the emotional hole his mother left. (His father, played by Akira Emoto, is not only oblivious to his son’s sexual proclivities but seems oblivious to anything not within a meter of his nose.) He hooks up with Ryuta, a personal trainer whose material circumstances require him to take side jobs, which include occasional sex work, a detail that eventually gets in the way of the relationship once it becomes more serious. Kosuke offers to support Ryuta because his feelings for him are real, but these feelings become more complicated when he meets Ryuta’s mother (Sawako Agawa), who raised him by herself and is the reason Ryuta needs the extra money. 

So what on first blush feels like a tale about forbidden love turns on the question of how such a relationship is strained by differences in economic capability. Kosuke is self-made and well-off. In that regard, Matsunaga necessarily plays up the stereotype of gay extravagance (that apartment!), but he uses it to interrogate Kosuke’s feelings in such a way that we come to understand what it is he really longs for, and while the answer isn’t surprising, it is surprisingly moving. Being a literalist, I would have appreciated more background on Ryuta and his mother, since their straitened situation sometimes felt like a plot device, but as a protagonist, Kosuke is entirely convincing.

In Japanese. Opens Feb. 10 in Tokyo at Toho Cinemas Nihonbashi (050-6868-5060), Toho Cinemas Hibiya (050-6868-5068), Theatre Shinjuku (03-3352-1846), Human Trust Cinema Shibuya (03-5468-5551), Toho Cinemas Roppongi Hills (050-6868-5024).

Egoist home page in Japanese

photo (c) 2023 Takayama Makoto, Shogakkan/Egoist Seisaku Iinkai

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