The Top Ten Japanese Gay Dramas
Japan and film go hand in hand. With beautiful set-pieces and heart wrenching plots, it’s understandable why anyone would want to look to Japan for something new, pure and interesting. All you have to do is look at Akira Kurosawa and any of his works and you’ll see how influential Japanese cinematography is. Kurosawa has influenced the screen from Game of Thrones to Lord of the Rings, and The Magnificent Seven was actually based on Seven Samurai, which he co-wrote, edited, and directed.
Ask any film director today who is planning on a large action set-piece that contains enough drama and tension to keep you hooked who their biggest influences are. They’ll either say Kurosawa, or somebody that Kurosawa has influenced. Why is he so good? Character. It’s not about two armies coming head to head or clashing at an incredible climax in his films, it’s about the conflict and the personalities of his characters.
So, the bar has been set. Imagine for a moment that you’re a Japanese director working today. You’ve seen the beauty of Kurosawa’s cinematography. How he uses character, color, and camera movement to create a masterpiece. How do you live up to it? You develop on it and you modernize it. This is where Japanese gay drama comes in. The conflict is already there. A forbidden love story against a conservative force. Love vs. tradition. Old vs. new. Power vs. fear.
It’s not necessarily ground that hasn’t been tread on over the past fifty years, but it’s possible to do it wrong. Your characters are too likeable or “safe”, you’ve lost your audience. Your characters are too unlikeable and the comments you’re trying to make are too indulgent, you’ve lost your audience. So, what are the best Japanese gay dramas that you can watch right now? Don’t worry, we have a list of the top ten best Japanese dramas. These weave plot and character together so beautifully that you’ll wonder why it took you so long to start watching.
10. Bokura No Ai No Kanade (Melody of Our Love) – A Symphony of Seduction
This is a nice relaxing film to switch off to. It’s short at around an hour and ten minutes and has a pretty standard plot. Maki is a talented musician who loves his classmate Ruiku. Ruiku plays his piano with such drive and passion, but when he steps away from the keys he appears cold and distant. Maki can see something in him, something deep, but wonders whether or not he can get to know the Ruiku he’s seen play.
It’s had mixed reviews, and this is mainly due to the ending, but how much you enjoy this film totally depends on what you’re looking for. Whatever you put in, you’ll get out. Don’t expect a Shakespearean love story when you’re going into it and just watch it for the enjoyment then you’ll get a lot out of it. Just be prepared that the ending is disappointing. If you do this then it’s a great watch, but it’s by no means the best gay Japanese love story ever told. Those are below.
9. Junjô (Pure Heart) (Jyunjyou)– Lover’s Block
Satoshi Kaneda is on top form in his directorial efforts for this film. It’s clear that his communication with the author of the manga, Hyôta Fujiyama, was perfect as this film is simply worth watching for how it is framed. Shot to shot, camera move to camera move your eyes will be hooked on screen simply because of how well Kaneda has mastered his craft.
Not only this but the plot is great too! It has all of those juicy tropes to look for: jealousy, passion, fear, love, secrecy. Tozaki is a writer who meets his childhood crush and begins a relationship with him filled with passion and jealousy. Is it simple and a little bit cliched? Yes. Does this mean it’s bad? Absolutely not.
8. Funeral Parade of Roses – Tongues and Roses
So, we’ve talked about Kurosawa. So far, the best way to try and match his masterful filmmaking seems to be to try and emulate it. Not here, however. Funeral Parade of Roses is experimental, it’s aesthetic and it’s simply stunning.
Released in 1969 and directed by Toshio Matsumoto it’s safe to say that Funeral Parade of Roses is fearless. It takes a look at Japanese gay culture in 60’s Tokyo and is unrelenting in its depiction. Using styles borrowed from documentaries and avant-garde experiments alike, this certainly isn’t one to miss. The plot is simple enough, revolving around a group of transvestites. On its own the premise is interesting, intriguing and captivating, especially due to its setting in the 1960s. It’s the filmmaking that elevates it, though. And yes, it gets elevated.
7. Big Bang Love: Juvenile – Prison Ache
Now for a heavy hitter. If I told you the film was directed by Takashi Miike, director of Ichi the Killer and Yakuza Apocalypse, that should be enough to sway anyone on the fence towards this film. If I told you to prepare yourself and you want to watch it more, this is definitely for you.
Takashi Miike is on top form here, creating a story about two prisoners, Jun and Shiro. It becomes symbolic, exquisite, and abstract from here. You have an idea of what to expect if you’re familiar with the director’s other work, but this is easily one of his best.
It’s about how love can blind you, and how this can be both beautiful and deeply, deeply tragic.
6. No Touching at All (Doushitemo furetakunai – Don’t Keep Your Hands Off This One
This is why film, television, and literature exist. We use these mediums to look at ourselves and question how we’d act in certain situations. Here is a film that takes a situation that we can all relate to, adds some perfect characters, and makes it poignant and meaningful.
Shima is shy when he first starts his job. In an elevator up to his office he meets a man who is brash, hungover, and so well dimensioned by the screenplay. This is Togawa. This is his boss. Should he pursue his feelings for Togawa? He’s been hurt before.
This is why this film is a great watch. It’s a character study that at face value seems simple, but when you start looking deeper you see the nuances of it. At the heart of this film there is a question: “why do we fall for the people we fall for?” However, the film knows it can’t answer this question and so it never becomes pretentious. It simply explores it. Shima has been hurt in the past by a series of bad relationships. Togawa isn’t good for him. It’s not about forbidden love as much as it’s about what love is and why it happens.
5. Hana Yori Dango (Boys Over Flowers) – Flower Power
Now this is Japanese drama. Critically and commercially loved? Yes. Funny? Yes. Heartfelt? Definitely. This is certainly Japanese television on top form. The characters are loveable, the script is witty and well put together and the drama is never too much. The best thing has to be the choice to make it into a television show. Now, instead of spending a couple of hours with the characters you get so much more.
What’s more is that it’s brilliantly Japanese. Makino Tsukushi is the protagonist and she is an absolute joy. You’ll have a new favorite moment with her every single episode, for example her punch in the first one. She fits into the Japan-centric plot perfectly, struggling at a prestigious school, trying to fit in while fighting great changes, stress and realizations and finding friends along the way. While these ideas are universal, because we’ve all been through it this only adds to how Japanese the show feels. You’ll relate in some way to all the characters (yes, all of them) because they’re so well written, but the cinematography and the specifics of the plot are what makes it so deservedly Japanese.
4. Taboo (Gohatto) – Sho-Your-Guns
By now you’re probably wondering about the past. About the love stories that happened generations ago, to great disgust and tragedy. If this thought crossed your mind, then this is certainly the one to watch.
Instead of the turmoil of coming out today, this drama looks at the Shogun era. A time of samurais and great conflict. Add something taboo to the mix and you’ve got a perfect storm of war and love. Sozaburo Kano is training hard and in his training room conflicts are brewing. The school’s master is left with a choice between letting Sozaburo follow his own path or forcing him through the path of the great samurai he could become.
There’s simply not more that you could ask for. It’s got feudal Japan and turmoil, both between the training masses and their enemies. It’s got love and it’s got war. It’s truly a film to watch and think about, and it is purely stunning in how it’s executed.
3. Udagawachou De Matteteyo (Wait for Me At Udagawachou) – Don’t Wait For This One
The themes and the cinematography of this drama are what makes it so impressive. Mamose spots a classmate, Yashiro, dressed as a girl and begins to wish to romantically pursue him. The themes it’s dealing with are suitably heavy. It’s about youth and growing older, and the confusion we can feel at times.
The fact that Mamose’s interest in Yashiro develops after he sees him dressed as a girl shows that this film is tackling a lot. But it manages. This film is certainly worth watching to see how the characters develop and grow, especially Mamose. Mamose’s confusion and development and acceptance of love is something we’ve all been through, whether gay, straight, bisexual, pansexual or anything. It’s a film that’ll open your mind and make you think, but also make you remember fondly your first loves.
2. Boys Love 2 (Boys Love Gekijouban) – It’s That Simple
The first Boys Love film is good, and I would recommend a watch, but this one is certainly better. The stride has been picked up and the setting is used to the best of the director’s ability. It’s set in a school and follows a teacher, Kairo Aoi. He falls out with his girlfriend and a young boy, Sora, is there for him in his hour of need. This is before Sora gets transferred into his class.
The settings are gorgeous, the tension between the characters is exquisite, the characters themselves are believable and human. This is drama at some of its best. Keeping the plot and the reason there is tension simple, and then amping up the characters to carry the film into gorgeous brilliance.
Not only this but the chemistry between Kairo and Sora is incredible. The acting and the screenplay is commendable. If you’re looking for something that just does everything right this is the film for you. Grab some popcorn, but don’t expect to finish it, you’ll be too distracted by everything playing out before your eyes.
1. Ai No Kotodama (Words of Devotion) – Devote Yourself to This Film
This is quintessential. The conflict is there but manages to never feel forced. Everything about this film flows so naturally. Ootani and Tachibana have known each other since high school. Their love was there but at first seemed scary and taboo. Now they’re at college and they’re happy. Then Yuki appears, a beautiful girl who Ootani feels threatened by.
That’s all the plot needs to be. The director, Satoshi Kaneda, uses the plot and brings it to an entirely new level. His name has been mentioned before on this list and for good reason. He knows exactly what he’s doing when it comes to constructing an onscreen relationship.
What’s best about this film is that on paper it could go wrong at any moment. Kaneda knows this. Kaneda uses this to his advantage. He’s been given a blank canvas to build on and he does much more than that. The characters are brilliant, loveable, and most of all, believable. When you’re watching this relatively short film you’ll be wanting more, then instantly asking for less when it’s given to you. It’s a love triangle, but it’s turned into something deeply artistic and beautiful. It’ll definitely leave you wanting more, but afraid of what more could mean.