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I've heard about this story for sometime now. The Japanese title is Ooku, which refers to the chamber in the shogun's castle where all the women of the shogun's harem are kept. However, Yoshinaga Fumi's manga, on which this movie is adapted, adds a twist: the shogun is a woman and beautiful men fill her harem.

THE STORY


In the year 1716 Japan, most of the men have died from a deadly disease that only affects men, resulting in their population dwindling to as much as 1/4 of the total population of women. Consequently, women fill in the traditional roles of men, performing hard labor, managing businesses and running government while men are pampered, protected and allowed only to indulge in light entertainment.

In this nonexistent Japan lives Mizuno Yunoshin (Kazunari Ninomiya), a teenager from an impoverished samurai class family. He likes fencing and his childhood friend, O-Nobu (Horikita Maki), but because of his family's financial status (O-Nobu is a daughter of a wealthy merchant family and is thus expected to marry well) they cannot presumably be together. In order to relieve his family the burden of caring for him as well as to avoid an unhappy marriage of convenience, Mizuno decides to enter the ooku and became one of the shogun's 800 retainers.

This move proves to be life-changing as Mizuno experiences for himself the political backstabbing, insidious machinations and vicious power struggles behind closed doors amid frivolous, brightly-dressed, gorgeous men who divide their free time between incense games and fencing, and trying on new clothes and engaging in homoerotic relationships with each other. As to the latter part, that is only to be expected for several reasons: (1) the current shogun is only seven years old and is not yet ready to fulfill her duties to her harem; (2) becoming intimate with the higher-ranked ooku members is one way of rising up the ranks; (3) rape (or rather, surprise buttsex lolz) is a form of hazing performed by the seniors to newcomers, not unlike that practiced in prisons; and (4) sexual preference, which cannot be discounted even in the face of male birth dearth.

Shortly after entering ooku, Mizuno catches the attention of his seniors due to his martial prowess. At about the same time, the shogun suddenly dies and is replaced by a new one, a headstrong woman who is more concerned about running a country than acceding to requests for her to visit ooku. Eventually, however, she does grant her harem an audience and as expected, Mizuno, who has been prepped to be her first bed partner, catches her eye. But what Mizuno and the shogun don't know is that the choice may carry with it a death sentence.


THE REVIEW


Gender reversal is not really a new twist, and matriarchal societies are nothing new. What is new, however, is the fact that this woman-dominated societal structure is set in ancient times in a country that is decidedly patriarchal, when most stories with this element are often futuristic and of the science fiction variety. In that aspect, The Lady Shogun and Her Men sets itself apart. But revolutionary? I recognize how this movie (and the original manga) could be fascinating from the feminist or gender studies perspective, but I'm not really schooled in either so I can't really say. Here's a much better presentation of the cultural aspects of Ooku, which helped me appreciate this side of the movie better.


Intellectual discussions aside, The Lady Shogun and Her Men is, from a visual aspect, a picturesque film. The cinematography is a little static for the big screen but what few scenes we do get are sufficient for world-building. The part I loved best was the first scenes of the movie, showing this one street in Edo bustling with women workers. The second part I loved was the overhead shot of the shogun's castle in the middle of this vast garden, impeccably maintained, complete with a bridge arching over a man-made lake. Just beautiful. I imagine that was a live set.

The period costumes are also a marvel to behold. The first time I saw the men's kimonos, I found it a little funny. Can you imagine a samurai warrior in lavender and instead of a sword, he's carrying a fan? Erm. There is this one scene where all the men of ooku are preparing to meet the new shogun for the first time and all of them are dressed to the nines in these elaborate kimonos of varying shades from pink to yellow and other light, pastel colors. The impression is that of peacocks strutting about, desperate to attract their mate. But Shogun Yoshimune doesn't even spare them a second glance and even calls them up for their frivolousness. Heh.

Speaking of which, the women's costumes are also eye-candy. They're not as bright as the men's but they're still pretty and girly enough that it makes you question the gender reversal objective of the movie. Hmm. On second thought, maybe it's not really gender reversal in the sense that women become more like men and men more like women, but more "what would happen if there were very few men to perform the tasks of men and women were forced to step in and fill in the gaps?" If so, then The Lady Shogun and Her Men has set its foot firmly on reality. Gender, after all, is not just confined to sex. Also of interest is the oft-repeated assertion that women are stronger and men are weaker.

The acting in The Lady Shogun and Her Men is surprisingly good. What I've noticed about Japanese actors and actresses is that they are, for the most part, understated but tend to overact when portraying key dramatic moments. That's the general impression I get when I watch Japanese shows. It all feels a little forced, a little unbelievable, and I can't get rid of the feeling that they're all just acting out, instead of inhabiting a character. So, The Lady Shogun and Her Men was a nice experience, especially because I loved both Mizuno and Yoshimune and they were played out well by their respective actors. The latter only came halfway into the movie but her impact is so big, I kind of think in retrospect that the movie doesn't really become interesting until she makes her appearance.

As for the rest of the cast, they are all good despite their cliched roles. I rather enjoyed the scheming of Fujinami (Sasaki Kuranosuke) and Matsushima (Tamaki Hiroshi) and the beautiful tragedy that is Tsuroka (Okura Tadayoshi). Of course, it helps that all these men are handsome, especially Okura who is apparently a newcomer in film.

Ah, this movie was really good. I really enjoyed it and I highly recommend it to anyone interested in history, period dramas, beautiful men and strong women. Of course, you can watch it for thoroughly different reasons, too.



THE SCORE

Story - 7
Sound - 7
Cinematography - 7
Picture - 6
Special Effects - 5
Acting - 7

Overall - 6.5/10

Post a Comment

Thanks for reading my review and linking to my blog! This is perhaps my favorite movie of 2010, and I can't put the manga down, either. (Well, I couldn't until I caught up with the latest chapter in Melody and have now run out....)

you got me at surprise butt sex. can't wait to watch this! haha

Kazunari ninomiyaaa ♥♡♥♡

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