The allure of Japan’s Kabuki theater, as well as its thinly veiled homoeroticism, comes across in the well-mounted meller “Beauty.” However, the movie steps into the standard trap that lies in wait for filmmakers who don’t understand the different requirements of filmed drama and theatrical performance. Both in Japan and abroad, this stilted effort will appeal only to culture vultures, though fests may be tempted by its top production values and worthy tone.
In rural Nagano, during the Showa Era (1935), prepubescent Hanji (Taira Takahashi), a woodcutter’s son, finds himself drawn into the world of Kabuki theater, despite his grandfather’s reservations. Less explicit, though just as obvious, is the boy’s attraction to the troupe’s young player, Yukio (Sora Oshima). Schematic script follows the adult Hanji (Takataro Kataoka) and Yukio (Ainosuke Kataoka) through their years as co-stars, soldiers and POWs. But narrative’s play with parallels between on- and offstage life fails to enliven the theatrical tradition for general viewers, especially as the actors’ theatrical chops are ill-suited to the subtler demands of screen acting. Lensing is beautiful, capturing local landscapes and Kabuki costumes with equal finesse.