Film reviews

Queer Japan – Documentary Review

Queer Japan is a new documentary feature film from Graham Kolbeins, who has created a number of works on the topic of the LGBTQ+ community, and this time has turned his focus on the Queer community in Japan. Queer Japan focuses on a number of people from across the community who are out and proud, in order to raise awareness of the Queer community in Japan, as well as celebrating the diversity that it holds.

The Queer community contains a multitude of identities, from the more well known and recognised gay, lesbian, and bisexual, to the often overlooked asexual or demisexual, to those that are in the spotlight fighting for equality and acceptance, such as the trans community.

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There are so many different types of people in the LGBTQ+ community, from so many different walks of life, that you’d think that creating a film that tries to focus on the entire community would be an impossible task, and that one group or another would have to fall by the wayside. Kolbeins, however, manages to make Queer Japan feel like it covers a huge variety of subjects, and spends time with people from all parts of the community over its 100 minute runtime. We get to meet drag queens, gay erotic artists, trans politicians,and others, all of whom share their experiences of being openly Queer in Japan.

Like many people who have experienced Japanese film and television, I assumed that the country would be one that is fairly open to those who go against the sexual and gender ‘norms’ that we have here in Europe. There are so many films, animated shows, and comics, that are so openly accepting of sex and gender variance that I came to believe that Japan would be a country more accepting of the Queer community. But this film goes on to shine a light on the reality of Japan, and what it means to be ‘different’ there.

Thanks to the influence of western cultures and Christianity, Japan has become more conservative, and has adopted a number of our taboos, meaning things that were once more openly accepted have been pushed to the fringes, and the Queer community has been a victim of this. Thank you for ruining yet another thing colonialism. Because of this, many aspects of the Queer community in Japan have been pushed underground, and it means that the people featured in this documentary are having to fight back against these societal taboos just to be themselves and be accepted.

The film explores the wonder of the Queer community in Japan in some bright and lurid detail, oftentimes filled with bright colours and camera shots that would feel at home in fast-paced music videos, where the director openly features some of the more ‘extreme’ parts of the community.

It doesn’t shy away from showing people who enjoy going to bondage and kink clubs, people who take part in pet play, piss drinking, orgies, and more, and this might shock some of the more ‘vanilla’ viewers who have come to this film to learn more about the Queer community. The film doesn’t villainise any of these people, it doesn’t put people’s sexualities or kinks on display in order to shame or titillate, but is a frank and open display of what some people are like. It’s honest, and it doesn’t try to judge, it simply shows people the reality of the world.

Sadly, it’s not all fun in the reality of the Queer community, and the film does show some of the worse parts of being a member of this wonderfully diverse community, namely the way that they often get treated by cis, straight people, and governments designed to put the LGBTQ+ community down.

The film shows how some people in the Japanese government shut down discussion of including Queer awareness in schools, and how the television media mocks the fact that gay teens commit suicide at more than six times the national rate. This isn’t something that’s true solely in Japan, and you can see such behaviour in almost every country in the world. Ultimately though, this film serves as a celebration of those in Japan who are standing up against this discrimination and oppression, and are proud to be who they are.

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Queer Japan is a bright and colourful film, one that shows some parts of the Queer community that other documentaries would be too afraid of exploring. It features dozens of individuals from all walks of life, all of whom are united in being a part of this vibrant and varied community. Whether you’re a part of the Queer community or not, you’re sure to come away from this film with a different understanding of what Japan, and its LGBTQ+ people, are like.

Queer Japan will be available in the US and Canada on December 11th via Theatrical At Home, and on Digital HD, including Apple TV, Prime Video and Google Play.

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