Documentary “Queer Japan” from filmmaker Graham Kolbiens follows the life of LGBTQ artists, activists, and everyday people living in metro areas of Japan. As an outsider, when I pictured Japan, Tokyo in particular, I have always envisioned a westernized society. Neon lights, anime, and cutting edge fashion; maybe I was ignorant but in my mind I had imagined something far more accepting and open than the reality that Japanese LGBTQ people are actually living in.
Although this piece was pretty graphic in many ways, and dealt with a bit of an underbelly of Japanese LGBTQ culture; it simultaneously explores important topics and serves as a bit of a history lesson for those of us who are uninformed of how Japanese politics play a part in the everyday lives of people in the LGBTQ community.
This edgy aspect of the film may be squeamish for some; but, for me, as a person who has many LGBTQ friends and has seen and experienced the culture, it wasn’t really too scandalous. Though this comment should serve as a forewarning for anyone who may be more sensitive to a piece that at times veers into borderline pornographic.
This was the major part that threw me off about this film. There was, simply put, a lot of discomfort to digest. There were intersecting storylines that veered off into many different places; and none of the people we follow overlap, making the entire film pretty non linear.
On the one hand we have these artists, one scene in particular shows a drag queen with gay couples behind her fondling each other’s private parts in full view, and on the other we have a male to female transgender political and activist, Aya Kamikawa, who fought hard for equality. So much so that she literally stood out on the streets with a blow horn to make her cause known and become an elected official.
She was able to aid in the passing of a law where transgender Japanese people are legally recognized for their gender, with the shocking aspect of the equality law being they are required to sterilize themselves. This was another thing that floored me about Japan and Japanese law, and I again have to stress that on the very positive side this film taught me a lot. On the negative side, this is also where I feel like the film failed for me, the political activism story line I really enjoyed but there wasn’t enough of it, and I really felt it would have been a wonderful centerpiece.
It was informative, well thought out, and showed an important political figure in Japan. I feel like if the film were to be about an alternative LGBTQ subculture it should have been that, or if it were to be about political activists it should have been about that. I would have preferred it as a political film, but I could have respected it as either. There was simply a more commercialized and digestible way to present this to an audience, and I think it missed the mark there. Regardless, this film is informative and I have not seen a documentary similar to this.
It’s a good piece to watch to gather information and learn more about a different culture you would likely never learn about on your own unless you were immersed in it personally. It could have done with being more focused and each storyline more realized, but it served an ultimate purpose and will undoubtedly raise some much needed awareness towards the daily struggles of LGBTQ people living in Japan.
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