Three’s company: in Hush! a gay couple become a trio when a young woman decides to bear their child, For out filmmaker Hashiguchi Ryosuke, it’s a uniquely Japanese twist

Three’s company: in Hush! a gay couple become a trio when a young woman decides to bear their child, For out filmmaker Hashiguchi Ryosuke, it’s a uniquely Japanese twist – film

Howard Feinstein

Hashiguchi Ryosuke describes the Tokyo bar scene with a laugh: “The gay bars are tiny rooms. Everybody’s dressed up nicely. Everybody’s gentle. You almost never find a partner in one. Everybody’s so well-behaved. Nobody has the guts.

“It’s all very old-fashioned and quaint,” he continues. “You lean over to your friend and say, `See that boy over there? What’s the story with him?’ Your friend answers, `Oh, he’s 30-something, and his taste in men runs like this …’ That’s how connections gradually get made.” Like the connection between the two lovers, Naoya (Takahashi Kazuya) and Katsuhiro (Tanabe Seiichi), in Hashiguchi’s new film, Hush! We see the two men both as singles and as a couple, but we are not privy to their initial encounter. “They probably met at a bar,” Hashiguchi chuckles. “Naoya invited him home.”

The 39-year-old director, dapper in designer gray in the French Riviera sun, says that the character with whom he most identifies is Naoya, a cute, openly gay, and very self-absorbed dog groomer who comes from an extremely dysfunctional family (as does Hashiguchi). In the opening scene, Naoya pitifully sees off a trick who can’t wait to flee his flat. “Naoya’s out, but he’s depressed, thinking his life will be a series of one-night stands,” says Hashiguchi, who, much to his chagrin, is still single. “He grunts at the small moments of life, like when riding his bicycle or putting on his sunglasses, so that he won’t be depressed. It’s half prayer, half mantra, a way for him to keep his spirits up.”

Hashiguchi directed his first short films, which he terms “private,” just as he was coming out. “I fell in love with a man at 17 and realized I was gay,” he recalls. “I began to stare long and hard at my gayness, which I could no longer deny. Making films is a search for your identity.

“We have an expression in Japanese: The drowning will grasp even at straws,” he adds. “For me, firm started out as a straw. It gradually turned into a crutch, then a wheelchair.” The metaphor may not work so well in English, but you get the point.

His films focus on the proxemics of intimacy. “I’m interested in how people who are strangers shrink the distance between them–loneliness–how that distance is negotiated,” he explains.

In the much-lauded autobiographical Like Grains of Sand (1995), Hashiguchi studied the psychological dance performed by two men and a woman around one another. The woman and one of the men, an awkward, uncomfortably gay youth, are both in love with the second man, their handsome, self-assured band leader. In that film gay desire was unrequited: You knew who was gonna bag the stud.

A two-guys-and-a-gal triangle develops in Hush! as well, but it is equilateral. A young woman, Asako (Kataoka Reiko), who is tough even while carrying some heavy mental baggage, becomes obsessed with bearing Katsuhiro’s child after spotting him and Naoya in a diner. She invades the gay couple’s smug domestic life, and the initial collision mellows into a Zen-like acceptance. The three form a family, though whether it will last Hashiguchi leaves ambiguous.

But an American threesome this is not. Hashiguchi, whose next project is an adaptation of Mishima Yukio’s novel Forbidden Color’s, says that the trios usually found in gay films do not turn him on: “There are plenty of movies in Hollywood that are comedies about two gay men and a woman. That’s not what I wanted to make. They each risk pain in order to get on with their lives.”

Feinstein contributes to the New York Daily News and The [London] Guardian.

COPYRIGHT 2002 Liberation Publications, Inc.

COPYRIGHT 2003 Gale Group