Japanese actor-director Kitano says his new film explores homosexual relations in the samurai world

(Screenshot from YouTube)

TOKYO (AP) | Japanese actor-director Takeshi Kitano says he wanted his new film “Kubi” to show the world of samurai in ways that mainstream movies have rarely done before, by portraying the homosexual, love-hate relationship of warlords in one of Japan’s best known historical episodes.

“What is never shown is relationships between men at that time, including their homosexual relationships,” Kitano told a news conference at the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Japan on Nov. 15 ahead of the Nov. 23 opening of his film in Japan.

The story of “Kubi,” or “neck,” shows the 1582 ambush of Oda Nobunaga, one of Japan’s best-known warlords, at the Honnoji temple in Kyoto by an aide, Akechi Mitsuhide.

Past dramas from that period have only shown “very cool actors and pretty aspects,” Kitano said.

“This is a period when especially men were keeping up with their lives for other men within these relationships, including sexual relationships,” he said. “So I wanted to delve into showing these more murky relationships.”

He wrote a script for the idea 30 years ago, then released the novel “Kubi” in 2019, leading to his production of the film. He also plays Toyotomi Hideyoshi, who takes over after Nobunaga, in the film.

Kitano, 76, began his career as stand-up comedian Beat Takeshi before becoming a TV star.

Kitano said he has seen the dark side of the Japanese entertainment industry, which recently has been shaken by a scandal involving the decades-long sexual abuse of hundreds of boys by the late founder of a powerful talent agency. Recently, the suicide of a member of a hugely popular female-only theater company Takarazuka prompted criticism over its alleged overwork and widespread bullying.

“In old days, in the Japanese entertainment industry, I wouldn`t go as far as calling it slavery, but people used to be treated a commodities, from which money is made while showing them off. This is something that’s still left in the culture of Japanese entertainment,” Kitano said.

In his early days as a comedian, there were times when he was paid not even one-tenth of the worth of his work, he said. “There have been improvements in recent years, but I’ve always thought severe circumstances have existed.”

Kitano, who debuted as a film director in 1989 with “Violent Cop” and won the Golden Lion at the Venice Film Festival for “Hana-bi” in 1997, is known for violent depictions in his gangster movies like “Outrage.”

“Kubi,” which refers to traditional beheadings, has ample violence. Violence and comedy are an inseparable part of daily lives, he said.

“Laughter is a devil,” he said. “When people are very serious, such as at weddings or funerals, we always have a comedy or a devil coming in and making people laugh.”

Same for violent films, he said. “Even when we are filming very serious scenes, there are comedic elements that come in on the set, as the devil comes in and makes people laugh,” though those scenes are not in the final version of films.

“Actually, my next film is about comedy within violent films,” Kitano said. It will be a two-part film, with his own violent story followed by its parody version. “I think I can make it work somehow.”

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