Women are irrational, that’s all there is to that!
Their heads are full of cotton, hay, and rags!
They’re nothing but exasperating, irritating,
vacillating, calculating, agitating,
Maddening and infuriating hags!
–Henry Higgins in My Fair Lady, “Hymn to Him”
I recently saw Ōoku (大奥), an alternate history film based on the first volume of the manga of the same name, and the whole time I was watching the men in this film, I couldn’t get “Hymn to Him” out of my head. I’ve written about gender vs. sex in the media before, but this film takes the cake–it would make Henry Higgins scream.
Ōoku (大奥) focuses on the inner chambers of the Shogun’s palace and the people who live and work there. The real ōoku was where all the women connected to the Shogun lived (read: harem), and in the past, there have been films and TV series about the rivalries of his concubines. However, in this Ōoku, distinguished by the modifier “gender swap” (literally “male-female reversal”),* most of the men in Japan have died from The Red Death, a horrible disease that only affects men. As a result of the epidemic, the sex ratio has been changed to 1 man to 4 women. Men have become a hot commodity—only the well-off can purchase husbands for their daughters to marry; the rest must patronize prostitutes if they are interested in having sex with men or having children.
Photo from シネコン (Shinekon). Aug. 2010, No. 056, p. 28
In the film, Mizuno Yunoshin (Ninomiya Kazunari), is a martial artist by day and a freelance sex-worker by night. Because of class differences, he doesn’t think he can marry his childhood sweetheart, the お嬢様 Onobu (Horikita Maki), and it is unlikely his sister can afford a proper husband, so, to support his family, he sells himself into the ōoku, where the Shogun keeps 3000 beautiful men. Right after he enters the ōoku, the young Shogun dies and is replaced by Tokugawa Yoshimune (Shibasaki Koh), a woman who is headstrong and aware of the power in her position but nonetheless a capable and intelligent ruler. The plot follows country bumpkin Mizuno’s attempts to navigate the social order in the ōoku, as his fellow ōoku inhabitants backstab, gossip, hook up, rape, and beat up each other when they aren’t trying on clothes or practicing kendo.
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