Saturday, July 23, 2011

What's up with Gay (-themed) Movies? Part 4: Boys Love

Boys Love
The next film in my collection is quite different from the ones reviewed in the three previous posts. First, it is Japanese. Second, although it is a gay-themed movie, the writer-director and the principal actors are all straight. Third, this movie has a distinct psychological edge to it.

The movie begins with a good-looking (of course) young magazine writer-editor, Taishin Mamiya, visiting the art studio of Noél, a (similarly good-looking) senior high school student, who also happens to be a celebrity model. The magazine is doing a series on the avocations of celebrities and this is the young writer’s first major assignment.

Both parties are surprised during the course of the interview. The artist does not get the usual stupid interview questions (“What’s your favourite food?” What’s your favourite colour?”) but rather pointed, knowledgeable questions about his art. The reporter soon realizes he is encountering real art and that in this case the “avocation” is of more interest and value than the vocation. The pair quickly establishes a kind of offhand camaraderie.

After the interview, Mamiya and Noél go out to an expensive restaurant/bar for dinner. Somewhat tipsy from polishing off a bottle of Dom Perignon, the young reporter heads to the washroom. To his shock and horror Noél has followed him and soon has his way with him in one of the stalls. Much confusion results for Mamiya.

Not so the artist. He cunningly arranges to have Mamiya visit his apartment, appearing at the door clad only in a loose sheet. The writer instantly realizes he has been deceived and tries to flee. Before he succeeds, however, Noél drops the sheet, exposing his naked body to the horrified young man.

Mamiya is becoming drawn in, however, and ends up making another visit to Noél’s apartment. But this time, it is not Noél he finds there. Instead it is the young artist’s classmate, Chidori, who suspects that Mamiya is just another of Noél’s apparently constant stream of sex partners. When he finds out that Mamiya wrote the magazine article about Noél and his art, he launches into a tirade about how he is the only one who understands Noél and his art, that he is the only one who really loves his classmate, and that Noél will eventually come to his senses and choose him as his partner. The young man (who bears an amazing physical resemblance to a brilliant and funny and lovable homestay student we once had) is clearly disturbed.

Chidori explains to Mamiya that Noél does art as a distraction, just as he engages in promiscuous sex, because he is sad. He alludes to a childhood friend of Noél, Ken-chan, who appears in the only painting that shows the artist’s feelings. “He’s more fragile and weaker than anyone.”

Mamiya employs a trick to get Noél to promise to quit sleeping around, but it is Noél who is smarter: he gets Mamiya to fall in love with him. The relationship changes them both. Noél becomes a conscientious student (and stops sleeping around) and Mamiya becomes his true self.

Chidori soon realizes what is going on between Noél and Mamiya and that his dream is about to fade. In a fit of jealousy he shows up at Mamiya’s apartment at one in the morning, expecting to find Noél there; he tells Mamiya that he will never allow him to have Noél. And in a pivotal scene, Chidori is waiting for Noél at his apartment when he arrives home. To get Noél’s attention he has removed the beloved painting and an argument ensues. Chidori forces Noél to confess his love for Mamiya and then tearfully begs him to realize that he, Chidori, is the only one who loves him. Noél replies that they are friends—no more and no less—and leaves the apartment.

Following this exchange, Noél gets very drunk and ends up nearly passed out in a seedy area. He is accosted by a man who beats him badly and rapes him. As a result of his severely messed-up face, Noél’s modeling career is on hold; meanwhile Chidori arranges for Mamiya to be implicated in Noél’s predicament and thus to lose his job at the magazine.

The two young men wait for each to text the other, until finally Mamiya sees a newspaper article explaining what happened to Noél. He rushes to Noél’s apartment after work and finds that the young artist has broken his promise and resumed his dissolute lifestyle: he is in the middle of another anonymous sexual encounter. Mamiya confronts him, calls him stupid. Noél responds that he does not believe in promises and tells his childhood story of his love for Ken-chan, an older boy who protected him from bullying and who encouraged him in his art. When Ken-chan was in the hospital and Noél was visiting him, Ken-chan promised to go to the sea with him as soon as he got better, as neither boy had ever been to the seaside. A week later Ken-chan died, and Noél realized that he loved him. The painting that Chidori took was of Ken-chan standing on the shore.

“But if loving someone is so sad, and if loving someone hurts me so much, I no longer want love. I’ll never believe in promises.” Noél starts to cry, and for the first time, Mamiya embraces him.

In the next scene they are lying on Noél’s bed together, fully dressed and chastely holding hands but obviously in love. Enter Chidori, returning the painting he stole. He sees the couple and the look on his face makes it clear he is about to go off the deep end.

Spoiler alert! Noél and Mamiya are in the artist’s apartment, celebrating Mamiya’s new job. In comes Chidori with a knife. He stabs Noél to death.

Mamiya takes the body to the seashore and carries it into the water until the lovers disappear.

One of the big problems with gay movies is that you get distracted by how cute the guys are. In this case, both Noél (who actually appears much older than a high school student; in fact, he looks older than Mamiya) and Taishin Mamiya are extremely easy to look at (especially for an old rice queen like me). The story itself is also quite gripping; it moves along quickly and the viewer is really wondering what will happen next, both in terms of the love story and of Chidori’s reaction to it.

So it is easy (for me at least) to miss the movie’s shortcomings. One wonders, for example, why Noél got so drunk after rejecting Chidori’s tearful supplication; he has appeared quite capable of chilliness throughout the story so far, and it is clear that he is in love with Mamiya. One also wonders why he didn’t go to Mamiya after he was traumatized; surely by that time there was enough trust between the two men. Also, Noél and Chidori were childhood friends. Chidori claims he has been in love with Noél since they were kids. Would he not have long ago realized that Noél did not love him romantically? And finally one wonders if it is realistic that experiencing the death of a beloved friend at age eight or so would on its own precipitate such a long-term cynical, self-destructive reaction.

Nevertheless, I do like this film.

Oh, and the title is quite clever. No doubt Boys Love refers to the love between Noél and Ken-chan, which Noél found again with Mamiya. But it also works well from a marketing perspective….

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