Yes, that was my impression, too. Reducing "Kokoro" to the homoerotic aspect is as one-dimensional as doing the same with a Mishima novel. I don't know enough about Japanese culture in the 50s to speculate about how a more explicit handling of the sexual aspects would have fared with the audience. But Rayns in his essay writes that Ichikawa rather underlined the homosexual aspect compared to the book, which seems to be even far more subdued.Revelator wrote:The "hint of something more" that you detect in the sensei/student relationship might be sexual attraction, but it could just as well be a paternal one. Sensei, whose soul is guilt-ridden and corroded, responds to the innocence and youth of the student for the same reason any jaded, self-loathing person might desire the company of someone untouched by what has scarred him, someone to whom he might even confide in.
But what is perhaps seen as a homoerotic relationship by Shinzu and others - think of the tellingly ironic look Sensei and Hioki get right at the beginning from the young couple who happen to sit on the other bench behind the tree - is much expanded into a meditation on paternal relationships and, more important, the END of such relationships. Hioki's father is on the verge of death at the end of the film. Likewise Sensei (his second, 'spiritual' father) takes his own life; Kaji, who in turn is a paternal figure for Nobuchi, dies spiritually in the sense that he disappoints Nobuchi and later commits suicide. Finally, the political fathers, the Emperor and General Nogi, also die; and if this film is about the death of illusion and the death of fathers, the otherwise rather inexplicable length to which the death of the Emperor and Nogi is discussed, suddenly makes sense. Nogi, like Nobuchi, actually seems to have killed himself because of guilt, because he wasn't able to live up to what his 'national father', The Emperor, seems to have demanded of him (the story of some defeat of his army many years ago is briefly mentioned in the film).
The film in my view, though in an elusive and perhaps evasive way, circles around this general theme of fathers and sons in various forms. What the meaning of all this is, is still not quite clear to me. The film presents these topics, but doesn't seem to have a position to them. Not necessarily a bad thing, but here the difficulties to come to terms with the 'meaning' of what we see has to do with a certain vagueness in the handling, and not necessarily only with some inherent complexity.
However, this is one of the best Ichikawa films I've yet seen (I'm limited to those that are subbed, of course), far less sentimental than "The Burmese Harp", his next film, in my view. Amazing performances and visuals, even if the latter are perhaps more 'conventional' than in an Ozu or Mizoguchi film. And the transfer is indeed stunning, one of the best of a Japanese film of that vintage I've ever seen. A tad soft perhaps, but otherwise completely flawless and extremely film-like. How MoC managed to get this out of a 120 min. film on a single-layer disc is somewhat beyond me.