The theatrical release of the Japanese feature “Doukyusei (Classmates)” marks the growing popularity in America of yaoi, an anime genre that depicts feathery romances between beautiful young men. Psychologists argue that these stories, which are written by women for female audiences, allow young women to escape the strictures of Japanese society and enjoy nonthreatening romantic fantasies.
Uptight honors student Licht Sajo (voiced by Kenji Nojima) can’t seem to master his part for the chorale competition in his all-boys high school until slacker guitarist Hikaru Kusakabe (Hiroshi Kamiya) teaches him to read music. During their rehearsal sessions, unexpected feelings emerge and the teenagers share a first kiss. Neither boy knows how to react. The mismatched pair experiences jealousy, frustration, uncertainty and denial before acknowledging their desire to stay together, although Sajo is studying furiously to get into a distant, prestigious college and Kusakabe has no plans after high school.
Like most of the heroes in yaoi films, Sajo and Kusakabe never go further than holding hands, declaring their affection and occasionally kissing. In the raciest scene, Kusakabe strokes Sajo’s back under his shirt, touching each vertebra. Gentleness, patience and emotional sincerity carry the day.
The visuals in “Doukyusei” are more original than the rather standard story. Director Shoko Nakamura uses watercolor effects, elongated human figures and split screen to capture the look of Asumiko Nakamura’s original manga. The atmospheric backgrounds suggest the chilly autumn rains and oppressive summer heat of Japan.
Running time: 1 hour
In Japanese with English subtitles
Playing: Downtown Independent Cinema, Los Angeles