A deeply affecting drama with a surprising amount of heart and character depth, Japanese feature Egoist tells a decidedly different type of queer love story. LGBT content is always on my radar, and when I spotted Egoist on the Providence International Film Festival lineup, something told me it would be a special kind of film. Writer/director Daishi Matsunaga surprisingly brings saucy sex scenes and adorable rom-com vibes aplenty. Based on a novel by Makoto Takayama, Egoist feels like a deeply personal film that channels real emotion into a believably intimate connection between two men.
Kosuke (Ryohei Suzuki), a magazine editor, is desperate for connection. His gym-bro friends recommend a new personal trainer, sure to point out that Ryuta (Hio Miyazawa) is also gay. They spend so much time chatting about their abs and physicality that it is no wonder Kosuke feels so lonely. Almost immediately, the chemistry between Kosuke and Ryuta is tangible. Mutual flirtatiousness over their appearances starts off their entanglement sweetly, if a little obvious. Kosuke jokes that Ryuta is “prettier than I heard,” while Ryuta insists to Kosuke that “not working out would waste your amazing physique.” It doesn’t take long for the two to open up personally to one another either. Ryuta, a high school dropout, does all he can to support his mother. Kosuke mourns the early childhood loss of his mother.
Eventually, the couple must decide to take things to the next level. This courting is absolutely adorable—it never once feels exploitative, over-exaggerated, and unrealistic, either. Their lovemaking is soft and beautiful; Kosuke even remarks amongst his friends that he sometimes wishes Ryuta were “more greedy” in the bedroom. Cute and “pure” Ryuta balances wonderfully against the somewhat closed-off Kosuke. We are treated to a cute montage as their feelings grow deeper. When Ryuta tries to cut ties despite this growing connection, he admits a secret he almost cannot bear to face: he has been turning tricks selling his body to support his mother.
Kosuke’s solution for paying $100,000 a month to Ryuta to be his “only trick” adds a complicated moral quandary into the mix. Just over halfway into the film, Egoist takes a surprising turn that it is never quite able to recover from. Yet it may also be this pivot that helps it stand out from the crowd, and adds yet another complex layer onto the story. Egoist is a well-made tale that depicts the gay love between Kosuke and Ryuta, and a rare winner for the subgenre in Japan. Bring the tissues.
Egoist screened at 2023’s Providence International Film Festival.