Which Metaphor Is Represented By These Gay Soldiers?
In the catalogue of the British Museum this image has been aptly described as ‘Buggering the Russian’. Both protagonists are infantry soldiers (the Russian has a rifle with a bayonet) of respectively the Japanese and Russian army.
The Russian soldier has the characteristic features as seen by the Japanese, with a pointed nose, white skin, and reddish hair and moustache. These details were most probably mimicked from the cliched manner of depicting the Westerners as ‘red-haired’, or ‘komojin‘, in Japanese prints.
The print deliberately portrays sexual violence in a battlefield setting. Nonetheless, the illustration is as a whole more nuanced and complicated because of the Russian soldier’s expression, which is somewhat subdued.
Also fascinating is the fact that this homoerotic encounter takes place in a minimalistic space, with hardly any background illustration except for a group of charging Japanese soldiers, holding a flag (in the other impression Fig.2 the soldiers are Russian).
The image has strong allegorical undertones. The sexually potent Japanese soldier can be interpreted as the masculine and powerful subjugator, Japan. The Russian soldier is portrayed as the servile recipient who has no other choice than to undergo the violent act of the Japanese victor – i.e., Russia is no longer the dominant force in the region but submissive to the new power, Japan.
Russian: “I think I am going to die!”
Japanese: “I’ll soon deliver the final blow…”
Russian troops (in the background): “Quick, let’s run away!”
Source: ‘Shunga, Sex and Pleasure in Japanese Art‘ issued by the British Museum (Timothy Clark, C. Andrew Gerstle, Aki Ishigami, Akiko Yano…etc.)