Home > Events, Film, Reviews > Film Review: Boys For Sale – Bai Bai Bōizu

Film Review: Boys For Sale – Bai Bai Bōizu

Premiered in the UK as one of the official selection at the 25th Anniversary of the Raindance Film Festival 2017.

Boys for Sale logoWhat might at first seem like a potentially titillating documentary on male prostitution in the Shinjuku 2-chome area of Tōkyō, reportedly the largest urban gay area in Asia, becomes something fascinating and shocking in equal parts. One wonders as the documentary progresses at what point the historical Japanese openness and acceptance of male-male sex as a necessary part of human life became something to be frowned upon and kept hidden. Adrian ‘Uchujin’ Storey, who worked on the documentary as Director of Photography, commented that it came about after the opening of Japan to the West, a point put so eruditely by one of the participants with his comments about the Austro-Hungarian attitude to homosexuality (the implication being that it was considered as pathological). When considering the historically enlightened principles of Shudō (same sex relationships between older and younger men) which originated with Bushidō and which reached its apotheosis as espoused in ‘Hagakure’ (Hidden Amongst the Leaves), Yamamoto Tsunetomo’s Samurai manual, it seems somewhat predictable that homophobia and its associated Victorian attitudes should have entered Japan from the West. At least historical legislation passed by the Shōgunate regarding young male Kabuki actors (butaiko) who were also working as young commercial sex workers (iroko) was intended not as subjectively prejudicial towards the iroko and their commercial sex work but were primarily intended to preserve community safety by preventing public fights breaking out between the Samurai in disputes over this or that youth, especially in theatres. Though the historical context of male-male love in Japan was examined in the documentary with some examples of shunga (erotic pictures) shown which left little to the imagination it would have been interesting had it been examined in a little more depth to provide a juxtaposition of historical versus modern attitudes in Japan.


And yet though modern Japanese legislation around commercial sex is aimed at the protection of women one gets the distinct impression that those same principles are generally applied implicitly to men. Modern attitudes to gay sex in Japan seemingly summed up by the mother of one of the participants at breakfast one morning when she said to him, ‘If mummy finds out you are a faggot she is going to kill herself’.


In order to deal with potential criticisms of the documentary as salacious judicious use of animations have been used, somewhat akin to manga style comics. The documentary follows predominantly straight boys (non-ke) earning money by selling sex for various personal reasons, called urisen in Japan. Compartmentalisation seems to be the key word for what goes on in the world of the urisen, in a way and degree that only the Japanese seem able to achieve. Perhaps this also explains the astonishing naiveté on display when it comes to knowledge of STDs and what passes for negotiating skills and safer sex. Having passed through the AIDs epidemic of the 1980s in the UK this reviewer could only feel great compassion towards the interviewees knowing what could be on the horizon for some of them should things continue as they are, without change. As one interviewee puts it ‘Japan is the only developed nation where HIV is on the increase’. As Shakespeare puts it, ‘there is no darkness but ignorance’.


The documentary took two years to film much of which was recorded during the heat of summer when it can reach 35 degrees. Blurring and use of masks were used to protect the identities of some of the interviewees whilst others were happy to be completely open with their identities and their comments on camera. It is a carefully observed and moving documentary. One can only hope that as it gains momentum, and well deserved plaudits for opening an eye on an otherwise hidden world, that it prompts changes in attitude towards the urisen and initiates the development of mechanisms that vastly improve the negotiation skills and safer sex behaviour of the urisen themselves.

‘Boys for Sale’ has a second screening at the Raindance Film Festival 2017 on Thursday 28th September 2017 at 8pm when there will be a Q&A session with Ian Thomas Ash and Adrian ‘Uchujin’ Storey presented by Gay Times.

Documentary, 76 minutes

Boys for Sale – Bai Bai Bōizu

Released 24 May 2017

Directed by Itako

Executive Producer Ian Thomas Ash

Director of Photography Adrian ‘Uchujin’ Storey

Illustrator N Tani Studio

Animator Jeremy Yamamura

Music Kazaguruma

Outfest 2017 Winner of the Fox Inclusion Feature Film Award

sasakawa foundation

japan foundationRD_Laurel_Official Selection_outline





Website (Japanese)


Reviewer Profile:

Trevor Skingle was born and lives in London where he works in the field of Humanitarian Disaster Relief. He is a Japanophile and his hobbies are Kabuki, painting and drawing and learning Japanese.

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Film Review: Never Ending Man: Hayao Miyazaki

Film Review: Ask This Of Rikyū (Rikyū ni Tazuneyo) 





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