Hiroshi Hasegawa, Tomato Hatakeno, Leslie Kee
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…smashes through some glass ceilings with its celebration of fringe queer culture; digging deep to offer insight into societal attitudes and politics.
Expressing desires to be new and old, progressive and traditional, self-effacing yet eccentric, there is a polarity to Japanese culture that is unlike any other on this planet.
These attitudes result in many hardships for Japan’s queer community, with their plight standing at an unruly crossroad that gives the antics going on at Shibuya Crossing a run for its money.
Director Graham Kolbeins observes the experiences of Japan’s queer community, exploring the vast spectrum of gender and sexuality, in the revealing documentary Queer Japan.
Queer Japan smashes through some glass ceilings with its celebration of fringe queer culture; digging deep to offer insight into societal attitudes and politics. Attributing a lack of diversity in government as a hindrance on progression, Queer Japan provides a podium that is otherwise unavailable for trailblazing transgender voices to communicate their dissatisfaction.
Night-life/party culture and artistic movements provide an outlet of release for many Japanese queer people, with the film denoting the importance of visible queerness in changing toxic perceptions. (Particularly those holding beliefs which associate queerness with mental illness.)
That said, what intends to reflect the voice of contemporary queer radicalism, connecting queer Japanese struggle with the likes of Western society, becomes derailed by Kolbeins’ desire to position queer-culture as a flagrant, hyper-sexualised stereotype. From latex-clad fetishism to absurdist performance art, the filmmaker’s voyeuristic portrayal of LGBTQ+ sexuality reduces what ought to champion queer rights into a dangerously self-gratifying side-show calibrated for Western audiences.
Despite Kolbeins’ safe construction of interviews, Queer Japan is not completely deprived of soul. Efforts to create a sense of place and vibrancy, evoking the whimsy of Japanese culture, carry through to quirky captions that introduce characters and define complex Japanese words. These peculiar touches offer not just a nod to Japanese culture but bring about a sense of humanity to the marginalised interviewees.
Even with the eccentric portrayal of Japanese culture, Queer Japan’s equal-treatment-for-all thesis, regardless of gender or sexuality, is thankfully a virtue not lost in translation here.