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TDR: The Drama Review 44.1 (2000) 49-55

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Hijikata Tatsumi: Plucking off the Darkness of the Flesh

an interview by Shibusawa Tatsuhiko


Hijikata Tatsumi: The Words of Butoh

IMAGE LINK= IMAGE LINK= IMAGE LINK= IMAGE LINK= IMAGE LINK= IMAGE LINK= IMAGE LINK= SHIBUSAWA: Your "dance of darkness" [ankoku buyo] is a philosophical statement of sorts, isn't it? When you read poetry or look at paintings, you're likely to say, "This is butoh." Does that mean that anything at all can be butoh?

HIJIKATA: That's right. After all, since ancient times solemn ceremonies have gone smoothly only with the help of dance. Paintings, too, are created by human beings and reveal their ultimate "butoh quality" [butoh-sei]. Really, it can be seen by anyone. But people stick to their own little world, their own particular genre and lose sight of it. Lots of people are now calling for an end to genres, but if they would just apply the idea of "butoh quality" to everything, the problem would be totally resolved.

SHIBUSAWA: It's a very basic problem that everyone seems to be forgetting about.

HIJIKATA: They forget it, then wallow in the indiscriminate use of the word [End Page 49] "body." And in their works I can see devices to use the body for some actions. When I listen to people who express themselves through words talk about the "body," I'd have to say offhand there's not much that I can do for them. Butoh dancers have got to position their bodies so that no one is able to guess their next movement.

SHIBUSAWA: What do you mean by "use the body for some actions"?

HIJIKATA: It's what you see in Happenings or in the current shingeki [new theatre], 1 where the body is used as a kind of triggering device, which I find pretty questionable. And recently we again have those old-style health expositions, showing pictures of sick people and body parts. It's a way of romanticizing strangeness.

SHIBUSAWA: Why is it that traditional aspects of Japanese culture immediately tend to be romanticized?

HIJIKATA: Look at kabuki-style dance [Nihon-buyo]. It's dance puffed up with silk wadding. That kind of dance is completely cut off from the sacred domain where form consists only of shouts and cries. No one could teach me a dance like that of the sacred domain. As for Happenings, I don't like them because they lack precision. The participants claim to be precise but they aren't. Because there's no terror in what they do.

My father used to recite old ballad-dramas [gidayu], which he was lousy at, and beat my mother. To my child's eyes, he seemed to be measuring the length of each step he took before hitting her. Now that truly was terror. And, in effect, I played the role of a child actor in it, with the neighborhood watching from a distance. When my mom ran outside, the neighbors would comment on the pattern of her kimono. I played a serious part in things like this for 10 years.

SHIBUSAWA: Now, that was a real happening...

HIJIKATA: Yes, that really was a happening. And because of that experience I was, for a long time, unable to stage dance performances. Talking about my childhood makes me wonder what the world of a child really is. I don't think I've ever performed a children's dance that could be called childish or childlike. Even when it came to playthings, I'd do things like biting the toilet. I can't say why... I also used to slice at the water in the water jar with a sickle because I liked looking at the fissures I had made. Or I'd fiercely breathe in and out, making my body into a bellows. Any adults around would get nervous looking at me. Why on earth did I used to get so frenzied? It was probably because of living in the freezing north country of Tohoku, where it was so cold that when you...


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