Graham Kolbeins and Anne Ishii, who have been working together for years editing anthologies of gay and feminist manga, are making a film that will help the world to get acquainted with a genuine depiction of being a queer in Japan.

As like as in Ancient Rome or Greece, homosexuality wasn’t a terrible sin in Japan at the very beginning. Warriors (famous samurais), priests, monks, abbots, representatives of a middle class were free to get into male-male relationship without any damage to their reputation. Just imagine the scale: there were different rules and systems worked out concerning homosexual relations and the society was used to that. Regarding the Edo Period, an entire genre of literature and art was dedicated to that topic: there were hundreds of books, including the poet Saikaku’s bestselling 1687 short story collection, “The Great Mirror of Male Love,” published in that distant past. But everything changed in the mid-19th century. The era of rapid modernization and western influence began, so queer sexualities were pathologized but not buried. Of course, the 20th century brought dramatic changes to Japan as well as to the US or Europe, but the voice of modern Japanese minorities was hardly heard in the world. So is it now. And here is the reason why the idea of “Queer Japan” was born.

Queer Japan. Graham Kolbeins

Let them speak

“My interest in the subject began when I came across images of work by gay manga artists like Gengoroh Tagame and Jiraiya as a teenager. Their artwork opened worlds of possibility for me, providing depictions of homosexuality that I could relate to more than anything I’d seen in Western gay media at the time”, Graham Kolbeins confessed in the interview with The Huffington post. His heroes are all artists, activists, community leaders and just everyday people who have something to share with the world concerning being in sexual minority. Probably, each person understands that it’s really a hard business because… First, you need to realize and accept that you are different according to the majority. Second, you have to be brave enough not to feel embarrassed and confused by living like you want. Third, you must be ready to face many obstacles on your life way. And this film is exactly about coping with these three points and still being yourself.

Queer Japan. Graham Kolbeins

 

Who are they?

All heroes of the film are creators in some sort and all of them have their own amazing stories. Have a look.

“My sexual orientation, gender, things like that… There are all kinds of words, but it’s not something that can be so nearly tied up in nouns. I think it’s more about each person having their own particular way of living, more than distinctions along gender lines”, Vivienne Sato considers.

Queer Japan. Graham Kolbeins

She is the drag queen, film critic, “non-architect” and all-around renaissance woman who thinks that “gays or drag queens are not special: humans are all unique”.

Queer Japan. Graham Kolbeins

“When I was little, I think I had gender dysphoria, you know, Gender Identity Disorder. But I’m not actually too concerned about all that now”, visual artist Nogi Sumiko confesses. According to her, basically only human beings that have ambiguity and we really enjoy it.

Queer Japan. Graham Kolbeins

“I realized at the age of three or so that I was gay, but I didn’t even come out, because I didn’t know about closets, or coming out”, Atsushi Matsuda laughs.

Queer Japan. Graham Kolbeins

He is a dancer in the Butoh group DAIRAKUDAKAN and he has something to tell you about counter-cultural Japanese dances.

Queer Japan. Graham Kolbeins

“My gender identity– I think it’s a little fuzzy. I don’t really identify as any gender, but I wouldn’t mind being called a he or she. Whatever works for people”, countryside bar owner/queer theorist Masaki C. Matsumoto smiles. He owns a bar with his mother and he teaches LGBTQ-friendly English as a Second Language by means of his Twitter.

Queer Japan. Graham Kolbeins

“If I were to fight in a straight-on kind of way against the male privilege attacking me, well, it wouldn’t be interesting for me. If you make it cute somehow, make it stupid, you invite laughter, and then people are interested and join you. Kawaii and humour are really important to me”, controversial manko [pussy] artist Rokudenashiko states. Her aim is to create cute manko works and use them to knock back the dark clouds above the humanity.

Queer Japan. Graham Kolbeins

They all had different but so similar beginnings. The directors have already shot some interviews with each of chosen heroes, but this is just a foundation of a future film. Main goal: understanding. Resources: as many queer stories, as possible.

 

They are worth listening to

The project of creating “Queer Japan” turned out to be promising: its Kickstarter campaign was completed with more funds than was expected. It’s a good confirmation that people are interested. Moreover, aside from the feature-length documentary, the creators are planning to carry out art exhibitions and release series of web videos, photography, and printed publications. No need to hurry with conclusions, let them say what they’ve got to say.

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