Based on the autobiographical novel by Makoto Takayama, director and co-screenwriter Daishi Matsunaga’s “Egoist” (Strand) is one of the most original and moving gay movies of the year. Slightly reminiscent of Hong Khaou’s 2014 “Lilting” (starring out actor Ben Whishaw), in which a mother and her son’s lover bond following a calamity, “Egoist” finds the perfect balance between eroticism and emotion.
When he’s not working Kosuke (Ryôhei Suzuki), a hot, gay, single magazine editor, socializes with his gay friends. They go out to eat, get drunk, and have a good time together. When Kosuke mentions that he wants to start working out more, one of his friends recommends Ryuta (Hio Miyazawa), an attractive, young, gay personal trainer.
Ryuta is on the opposite end of the social spectrum from Kosuke. He’s a high school dropout who still lives with his single mother Taeko (Sawako Agawa). He supports her with his work as a trainer (or at least that’s what we’re led to believe). Therefore, it’s not all that surprising when Kosuke and Ryuta find themselves attracted to each other, and then act on that attraction.
The relationship is sweet and affectionate. Kosuke generously provides for Ryuta, including regularly sending him home to his mother with bags of expensive sushi. But just as the couple seems to be hitting their stride, Ryuta breaks up with Kosuke. He admits that since he dropped out of high school, he has been turning tricks for his income. Kosuke is initially devastated, not by what Ryuta told him, but because the relationship ended abruptly.
Eventually, following scenes of Ryuta’s sex work, Kosuke reaches him (by hiring him because he won’t answer Kosuke’s calls), and the two are able to work through the situation in a mutually beneficial manner. Ryuta gets a couple of jobs, one as a manual laborer and one working in a restaurant’s kitchen. Ryuta even invites Kosuke to meet Taeko, and they share a wonderful home-cooked meal together.
[SPOILER ALERT] Just as their lives begin to settle into a romantic routine, tragedy strikes. Ryuta dies in his sleep. It’s here that “Egoist” moves in an equally potent
direction. Kosuke, who lost his mother when he was in junior high, and Taeko seek comfort in each other. She reveals that she knew about his relationship with her son, telling the story of how she asked Ryuta about Kosuke, and how she accepted them. Kosuke’s generosity continues, and he provides Taeko with money (which, at first, she declines), and they begin to spend time together. However, there is more sadness to come just around the corner.
Suzuki, Miyazawa, and Agawa are all fantastic. Each actor gives convincing and moving performances. Even with the heartbreaking elements of the story, “Egoist” is strongly recommended. In Japanese with subtitles.
Gregg Shapiro is the author of nine books including the poetry chapbook Refrain in Light (Souvenir Spoon Books, 2022). An entertainment journalist, whose interviews and reviews run in a variety of regional LGBTQ+ and mainstream publications and websites, Shapiro lives in Fort Lauderdale with his husband Rick and their dog Coco.