Secret Origins: Radical Japanese cinema of the 1960s and 1970s chez Jonas Mekas

By Paul Ben-Itzak
Copyright 2013, 2019 Paul Ben-Itzak

First published on the DI/AV on February 14, 2013. Today’s re-posting is sponsored by Slippery Rock University Dance.

If you think Butoh is the excruciatingly slow (or delectably languorous, depending on your point of view) dance interpreted by performers doused in flour that its Western acolytes have laid claim to with Zen-like fervor and wonder why this post-Hiroshima and Nagasaki art form was once called the ‘dance of darkness,’ Donald Richie’s 1959 “Sacrifice / Gisei,” being screened Sunday February 24 at Anthology Film Archives as part of its mini-festival of Film Experiments in 1960-70s Japan (meant to coincide with the Museum of Modern Art’s Tokyo 1955 – 1970: A New Avant-Garde exhibition closing Monday), will set you straight. The dance captured here is neither slow nor nuanced. Indeed, in a response typical of an ignorant Western critic, when the 8mm to video 10-minute piece opened (American so-called Butoh interpreters would take 10 minutes just to move a muscle), the performers running in circles and lifting their arms over alternating shoulders moved so gracelessly that at first I mistook the choreography for a paltry Japanese imitation of Judson, before I read the press release and realized that this Butoh authentically captured reveals the opposite, how diluted the ‘dance of darkness’ has become as it’s been transmitted by generations of non-Japanese interpreters. Click here to read the rest of the story.

20 years of telling stories not told elsewhere: Last Call at the Butoh Foundry — Asbestos Kan Bids Adieu to the Hijikata Studio; Kasai Divine as “Lovely Jean Paul”

By Maura Nguyen Donohue
Copyright 2003, 2018 Maura Nguyen Donohue

TOKYO — Sunday, January 19’s show from Asbestos Kan, the company started by Butoh founder Tatsumi Hijikata, marked the final public performance at the historic Tatsumi Hijikata Memorial Asbestos Dance Studio. Hijikata is considered the creator of Butoh. However, he hadn’t specifically set out to make “Butoh,” per se, when he premiered “Kinjiki (Forbidden Colors)” in 1959. The controversial work was based on Yukio Mishima’s novel of the same name and premiered during a Japan Dance Association showcase for new choreographers. It has since been cited as the first public showing of the performance movement that Hijikata later named Ankoku Butoh, Dance of Darkness. Four decades later, Hijikata’s Ankoku Butoh has become an internationally recognizable form. Tragically, two days after the performance and on the 17th anniversary of Hijikata’s death, the Tokyo District Court auctioned off the birthplace of Japan’s most influential contemporary performance form.

Close to 75 people crammed into the unassuming basement studio (the back of a van parked outside serves as box office and coat check), slowly filling it until the only apparent performance space consisted of a small spot of about 10 square feet in the corner. Agoraphobic response to the crush of the crowd shifted into a growing claustrophobic panic that I was stuck, sitting with my knees pulled up to my chest, without possibility of escape. But these fears were quickly dispelled as a video of abstract, digital bubbles was projected on the back wall, sparse chanting audio drifted through the room, and a kimono-clad woman entered the space. She screamed, the sound of pounding taiko drums followed and “Edo Mandalam” directed by Hironobu Oikawa, began….

(To receive the complete article, subscribers please contact publisher Paul Ben-Itzak at Not a subscriber? Subscribe to the DI for one year for just $36 by designating your PayPal payment in that amount to, or write us at that address to learn how to pay by check. First published exclusively on the DI on February 12, 2003.)