The subject of countless films and novels, favored by Japanese nationalists for their strict samurai codes of honor and death, the Shinsengumi were a notoriously brutal militia sworn to protect the shogunate during its final days. Leave it to Oshima to place a tender, operatic story of manly love in their midst. In Kyoto in 1865, two new recruits join up: the ruggedly handsome Tashiro (Tadanobu Asano) and the fey, feminine Kano (Ryuhei Matsuda), whose ruby lips and girlish locks cause even the militia's leaders (including Takeshi Kitano) to falter. “I don't want to die without making love to you,” says one, who gets only a blade against the throat; for others, something else awaits. His camera lingering on faces like a caressing lover, filming on highly stylized stages reminiscent of opera sets, Oshima brings forward a neglected aspect of one of Japan's best-known symbols, turning the manly art of Japanese swordplay, and its bushido codes, into erotic revelry.

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