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Shinjuku Boys

Visit the New Marilyn Club in Tokyo - where the "hosts" are women cross - dressing as men, and the "clients" are women - and take an extraordinary look at gender and sexuality in Japan. Shinjuku Boys introduces Tatsu, Gaish and Kazuki, three annabe who work as hosts at the New Marilyn Club. Annabe are women who live as men and have girlfriends, although they do not usually identify as lesbians. Tatsu lives with his girlfriend, Tomoe. Gaish is the tough-talking heartbreaker type who has a string of girlfriends. Kazuki lives with Kumi, a male transsexual and semi-famous nightclub dancer in Tokyo. Tatsu, Gaish and Kazuki talk frankly to the camera, revealing their own extraordinary stories as well as their views about women, sex, transvestitism and lesbianism. The clientele of the New Marilyn Club is almost exclusively heterosexual women who have become disappointed with born men.

Shinjuku Boys alternates fascinating interviews with fabulous sequences shot inside the Club, where the suave annabe down Buds in their snappy suits and turn on the charm for their glamorous clients. From the makers of Dream Girls, Shinjuku Boys is a remarkable documentary about the complexity of female sexuality in Japan today.

Shinjuku Boys dirs. Kim Longinotto & Jano Williams 1995 UK 53 min. 16mm

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Filmbesprechung von Andrew Matzner

Shinjuku Boys (Women Make Movies; 1996; 53 min.) focuses on three transgendered men who work in "Club Marilyn", a bar located in Tokyo's Shinjuku district, which employs ftm hosts to serve a female clientele. These hosts, whom the narrator describes as "women who have decided to live as men", arecalled onnabe in Japanese, and are considered to be "ideal men" by their customers.

Unlike Ladyboys and Sunflowers, both of which employ a narrative-driven structure, this film is more "slice-of-life" oriented. That is, there is no plot to whose climax the film steadily moves. Instead, the filmmakers provide in-depth interviews with Gaish, Kazuki, and Tatsu at their homes, along with numerous scenes of them working at the bar. One small story-line is to be found, though. It concerns Sampei, whom the audience first meets when he is applying for a job at the bar. The documentary periodically returns to Sampei, whose progress we follow, from being hired to slowly learning the ropes of being a host.

But the film's lack of a main story-line should not be construed as a weakness. On the contrary, Shinjuku Boys provides illuminating insights into the lives of its subjects. Gaish, Kazuki, and Tatsu are all extremely open and forthcoming with their feelings about identity and sexual issues.

Both Kazuki and Tatsu have steady, long-term girlfriends, who also speak about their relationships on camera. Gaish is more of a playboy, and is shown being quite rough with his admirers, which only causes them to desire him more.

When it comes to sexual intimacy, it appears that onnabe follow patterns similar to those of American stone butches, in which the clothed butch provides sexual satisfaction for her femme, without allowing herself to be sexually stimulated. For example, Gaish states that he is always the active party. "I don't know if there are onnabe who take off their clothes, but I never do. My body is not a man's, so I don't want her to see it." Later Gaish remarks on his disinterest in sex. "I've only ever done it to someone else; I've never had it done to me, so it doesn't mean anything to me". Tatsu also relates how at first he had never taken off his clothes when he made love with Tomoe, his partner. But after eight months of being together, he has reached the point where he is comfortable removing his clothes, and engaging in a more give and take sexual relationship.

The documentary also explores issues of stigma. Although Gaish, Tatsu and Kazuki are able to earn sufficient livings at Club Marilyn, social problems do remain. For Gaish, the cultural pressures which force women to marry and begin families render his romantic relationships problematic. This is because onnabe and their partners are "outcasts" in Japanese society, who are not legally permitted to marry. Gaish believes that he will never be able to have a serious long-term relationship, because women must always leave onnabe to get married. This forsight of how all his relationships will eventually end up causes great sadness for him. Yet Tatsu and Tomoe seem to have a committed relationship. While she hasn't told her parents that Tatsu is onnabe, Tomoe has already explained to them that she will not be pressured into marriage. Likewise, during an emotional phone call to his mother, Kazuki steadfastly refuses to give in to her desire that he give up his own lover and job at the bar, and return home.

For raising the issues that it does, and allowing its subjects adequate time to discuss them in an in-depth manner, Shinjuku Boys deserves praise. It would have been interesting to hear from Club Marilyn's female customers why they feel onnabe have more to offer them than other men do. A comparison between onnabe masculinity with, for instance, "salary man" masculinity, might have been interesting. Of course, I can't fault the filmmakers for not addressing this issue, because it comes from my own personal bias. Indeed, it is hard for me to critique this documentary, because I feel that it successfully accomplished what it set out to do: give voice to three transgendered individuals, and give viewers a look into the way they live and manage their daily lives in a society which does not fully accept them.