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TDR: The Drama Review 44.1 (2000) 10-28

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Hijikata Tatsumi: The Words of Butoh

Kurihara Nanako


Hijikata Tatsumi: The Words of Butoh

IMAGE LINK= IMAGE LINK= IMAGE LINK= IMAGE LINK= IMAGE LINK= IMAGE LINK= IMAGE LINK= IMAGE LINK= The founder of butoh, Hijikata Tatsumi, passed away in 1986 at the age of 57. In contrast to another butoh founder, Ono Kazuo, who is 93 years old and still performing internationally, Hijikata never left Japan. Nonetheless, Hijikata's influence is worldwide and evident in films, photographs, writings, and the many dancers who were trained or affected by his art.

Hijikata's physical absence seems to strengthen his presence in the remnants of his life's work. A documentary film by Ouchida Keiya of a performance of Hos otan (A Story of Small Pox, 1972), 1 one installment of a serial work entitled Shiki no tame no nij ushichiban (Twenty-seven Nights for the Four Seasons, 1972), allows us to see a classic Hijikata dance: lying down on the floor, he writhes to the accompaniment of "Bailero" by Joseph Canteloube. Only a loin cloth covers his skinny body, his rib bones are clearly exposed, the result of many days of fasting. His white butoh makeup is sliding off his skin, like scabs off a healing wound. Perhaps this fallen person is dying but trying to get up, a situation and image that Hijikata often talked about. Through the blistering image of emaciation and death, this ugly figure reveals the beauty of life. Hijikata's butoh seems to contain the secret of being.

The word "butoh," now the accepted name of the genre, originated as ankoku buyo in the early 1960s. "Ankoku" means "utter darkness." "Buyo," a generic term for dance, is used in many compounds: for example, gendai buyo, modern dance; and koten buyo, classical dance. Later in the 1960s, ankoku buyo evolved into ankoku buto. The word "buto" is used in compounds such as buto-kai, a European-type ball dance, or shi no buto, the medieval European dance of death. That is, "buto" was used to refer to Western dance forms. However, according to the Japanese dictionary K ojien, buto also means haimu, a specific ceremonial salutation at the imperial court in which a person flings the long sleeves of traditional Japanese dress and stamps the feet (Shinmura 1991:2037). "To" means stamping feet. Although a stamping movement is not typical of butoh, Hijikata created the term "ankoku butoh" to denote a cosmological dance which completely departed from existing dances and explored the darkest side of human nature.

Hijikata's relatively early death, self-mystifying character, and extraordinary works have made him a mythic figure. Recent efforts to reexamine his legacy have begun to expand our understanding of both the man and his work. In [End Page 12] November 1998 a week-long symposium about Hijikata was held at the Theatre Tram in Tokyo. Dancers, visual artists, poets, and scholars of various disciplines discussed aspects of Hijikata's life and career, such as his idiosyncratic use of language and his relationship with classical dance. One night was dedicated to a discussion by non-Japanese butoh dancers. The frank opinions of these dancers from various cultural contexts offered a valuable contrast to the insular tendencies of the butoh world in Japan. The Hijikata Tatsumi Archive was recently opened at Keio gijuku University Art Center in Tokyo, and more sources are becoming publicly accessible, their abundant materials awaiting critical study. We are only just beginning to assess Hijikata, his butoh, and what he was trying to achieve in his life and his work.

This issue of TDR is probably the first publication in which Hijikata's words are translated into English in complete texts rather than in excerpts. 2 Until now, only selections from his evocative writings have been translated, and usually presented with a number of photographs. Although they definitely stimulated the imagination of English-speaking readers, these partial translations were very limited, especially considering the vast numbers of words Hijikata left behind. Japanese readers can easily obtain several books of his writing, most...


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