Okoge

1992 Directed by Takehiro Nakajima. Starring Misa Shimizu, Takehiro Murata, Takeo Nakahara, Masayuki Shionoya.

REVIEWED By Marjorie Baumgarten, Fri., July 30, 1993

As this Japanese movie opens, Sayoko (Shimizu) and her friend spread out their beach blanket and picnic basket only to discover they have plopped themselves into the middle of an exclusively gay male beach surrounded by men of all shapes, sizes and ages in various states of undress. Although Sayoko's friend is appalled, Sayoko is fascinated by their beautyand affection. As she watches two men in the water kiss unself-consciously, something in her stirs. Later on, she rediscovers the two men, Goh (Murata) and Tochi (Nakahara), in a gay bar and, learning that they have nowhere to be together that night (Tochi is married and Goh's mother has invaded his “bachelor” pad), Sayoko offers them the use of a room in her tiny apartment. While they are upstairs trysting, Sayoko is downstairs thumbing through a coffee table book of Frida Kahlo paintings. Thus begin the bonds of a familial friendship, a relationship that provides all three of them with some of the happiest days they have ever known. “Okoge” (pronounced oh-koh-gay) is the Japanese word for the crust of rice that sticks to the bottom of the rice pot or “okama” (which is also Japanese slang for the gay male). Thus “okoge” also is slang for the women who gravitate toward gay men. Eventually the demands of the “real” world impinge on the threesome's idyll. Goh comes out to his family which is trying to fix him up with a wife. Their response is to quickly change the subject and his mother grows crazed with guilt. Tochi's wife threatens to out him to his conformist, white-collar corporate colleagues unless he resumes his husbandly role. And we discover Sayoko's hidden reasons for shunning heterosexual relationships. Yet this melodramatic plot maintains a deft comic edge throughout. Okoge is a distinctly Japanese work in the senses of it being a socially specific assault on cultural conformity and bigotry and in its portrait of options for young, independent, single women feeling pressured into marriage. It also offers us a glimpse into gay life in Japan. Allowances will probably need to be made, however, for national differences in acting styles. Sayoko's bubbly, childlike manner may, at first, take some time growing accustomed to. Though Okoge's narrative occasionally seems choppy and over-long, it really doesn't get in the way of the movie's enjoyment. With constant good humor and insight, it leads us gradually to an unforeseen climax and conclusion and keeps us curious and interested throughout. The movie became something of a popular phenomenon in Japan, providing audiences with provocative thematic material little explored in the Japanese film industry. Internationally, the film is now becoming something of a landmark in the new gay cinema.

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KEYWORDS FOR THIS FILM

Okoge, Takehiro Nakajima, Misa Shimizu, Takehiro Murata, Takeo Nakahara, Masayuki Shionoya

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