Director Graham Kolbeins’s Queer Japan has a big, open heart. The documentary examines the multi-faceted queer community in Japan with a generous cross-section of its members. Tomato Hatakeno is a transgender activist and video game guide book author; Gengoroh Tagame is a gay erotic artist known internationally for his hardcore BDSM-themed manga; Vivienne Sato is a famed artist and drag queen. But despite the film’s depth of trailblazing artists and activists, it punches most heavily when it’s sitting with everyday people, people who are making compromises and taking risks just to live some part of their truth. One young person, a misfit, a gender outlaw, commented at a pride parade “I don’t give a shit about love, I need toilets” – a brutally honest reminder of a hierarchy of needs and rights that are not addressed equally within the community (or, I suppose, without).
Curating from over a hundred interviews conducted over 3 years in various locations across Japan, Kolbein has more than enough colour to paint a rainbow. We get a back stage pass to the glossy parties and the seedy underground, meeting people living boldly in all walks of life. It’s truly a prismatic view of Japan’s deliciously diverse queer culture, and a glossary of terms is helpfully provided so we enjoy as immersive an experience as possible.
Queer Japan is a celebration of non-conformity, of alternative thinking, of living life without apology. But this party is also well-informed by that same community’s hardships, struggles, and minority status. While much of it is still lived in the margins, the documentary’s hopeful, irrepressible tone makes it clear that change is coming, and this vibrant, resilient community is not just ready for it. They’re making it happen.
Queer Japan is available in virtual cinemas and on demand December 11.