Despite the annual Tokyo Rainbow Pride celebrations and the introduction of same-sex partnership certificates in Shibuya in 2015, discrimination against sexual minorities is still very much a reality for the LGBTQ community in Japan. Fast forward six years to the present day though, and the Japanese film industry offers a different narrative. From a young girl’s journey of compassion and acceptance through her uncle’s transgender partner in Close Knit to a gay lawyer’s battle with love and self-resentment in Three Stories of Love, these Japanese LGBTQ films strive to present a fuller and more human portrait of Japan’s LGBTQ community, reaching even wider audiences abroad, too.
To celebrate the sixth anniversary of Shibuya’s recognition of same-sex unions, here are five must-watch Japanese LGBTQ films and documentaries to binge on this February.
Director: Naoko Ogigami
Straying from her preference for emotionally healing movies — or iyashikei eiga in Japanese — screenwriter and director Naoko Ogigami drew inspiration for Close-Knit from her visit to the U.S., where she witnessed the evident social issues faced by LGBTQ minorities. Close-Knit depicts the story of a young girl, Tomo (Rinka Kakihara), who gradually finds solace in her uncle, Makio (Kenta Kiritani) and his girlfriend Rinko (Toma Ikuta), a transgender woman, after being neglected and abandoned by her mother. Through Rinko’s apathetic (yet somewhat optimistic) character, Ogigami’s Close-Knit encapsulates the irrational fear and resentment against LGBTQ minorities in modern Japan without being heavy-handed.
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Three Stories of Love (2015)
Director: Ryosuke Hashiguchi
Known for his groundbreaking projects centered around LGBTQ issues, award-winning director Ryosuke Hashiguchi spent eight months perfecting his script for Three Stories of Love (Koibitotachi in Japanese). The film examines themes of love, abandonment and heartbreak from three polar-opposite characters: Shinomiya (Ryo Ikdea), a closeted gay lawyer with a self-inflicted emotional wound, Atsushi (Atsushi Shinohara), a bridge inspector grieving his late wife and Toko (Toko Narushima), a housewife who has an affair with a scam artist. Much like Hashiguchi’s previous works, such as A Touch of Fever and Hush, both of which featured gay men — the film weaves the loneliness and fragility of each character through their muted desperation.
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Kalanchoe no Hana (2018)
Director: Shun Nakagawa
Independent film director Shun Nakagawa snatched 13 awards at various Japanese film festivals thanks to his latest Japanese LGBTQ film, Kalanchoe no Hana. After a group of high school sophomores take an LGBTQ awareness course in school, the students grow suspicious of their classmates’ sexuality. Within the span of 39 minutes, Nakagawa illustrates the complex and varying attitudes of each of his characters, depicting just how difficult it can be to break down peer pressure.
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House of Himiko (2005)
Director: Isshin Inudo
Acclaimed director Isshin Inudo juggles themes of drama and comedy in House of Himiko, also known internationally as La Maison de Himiko. The film follows Saori (Ko Shibasaki), a young woman struggling with her father’s abandonment. When her father’s young lover, Haruhiko (Jo Odagiri), shows up to tell Saori that her father is dying, Saori must overcome her pain and resentment to take care of him. They reunite at House of Himiko, a nursing home founded by her father for gay men. Inudo tackles the sensibilities of coming out in Japan and reforging relationships within Japan’s LGBTQ families through Saori’s rediscovery of liberation.
Queer Japan (2019)
Director: Graham Kolbeins
Queer Japan begins with Graham Kolbein’s humble visit to Japan, where he works closely with Japanese LGBTQ artists and feminists through Massive Goods, his manga publishing and fashion brand company. The LGBTQ documentary — or a “series of character studies,” as the director prefers to call it — features activists, academics and artists from Japan’s LGBTQ community who identify as a kaleidoscope of gender and sexual identities. From drag queen Vivienne Sato to Tokyo municipal officer Aya Kamikawa, Queer Japan compiles 100 interviews conducted over three years to celebrate the triumphs and unconventional lives of Japan’s LGBTQ community.