If one says it is incomprehensible, then it is incomprehensible. But once one is taken along unconsciously by the movements of a profoundly mysterious body and lets out a sigh at even the blunders in this strange and curious performance, a splendid brilliance produced in a single moment, the devil will no longer let go. Dairakudakan, the dance troupe lead by Akaji Maro, gave birth to “Hoppo Butoh-ha,” “Sankaijuku,” and “Ariadone no Kai” within itself, and something similar to the taking over of the country of a gang, it set its bases in Tokyo, Otaru in Hokkaido, Tsuruoka in Yamagata Prefecture, and so on, continuing to expand itself. This time, it entered the depopulating area of Fukui Prefecture and constructed a “fortress.” For its debut performance from July 30, they called over a thousand young people to a mountain village with the population of a hundred people, and in addition, even brought a storm along. It appears that the local people who were cautious at first towards the “intruders” with their shaven heads also became involved with the “festival.”
The Chosen “Southern Limit of the North”
It was mountain after mountain. But if you strain your ears, you can hear the ocean rumbling faintly in the distance, like the overture of a storm. Gotaishicho in Fukui, although a town, has no more than 20 households, and wild boars, deer, and monkeys frequently appear in the area. It is a mountain village through and through. Japanese giant salamanders also lived at the Gotaishi waterfall closeby. Here, mysterious Butoh dancers started running about the hills and fields and diving under the waterfall from this winter. It was not only the animals of the mountain that were surprised at the appearance of these unnamed people; naturally, it was the 110 residents that were the most astonished.
It was a cold, snowy day. The three shadows that appeared like the wind. Two men and one woman. One of the men wore a doterra on top, and his face was long like a horse's, his beard untamed. The other man was dressed in a leather jacket and jeans. His hair was closely cropped and his eyebrows shaven. The woman accompanying them was wrapped in a coat made from fox fur. The three of them walked around the village, and upon finding a deserted house, peeked in and went inside, scouring for something. They appeared to be a suspicious group of three.
“That must be a gang.”
“Nah, since there’s a woman with them, they might be filming an adult film.”
Rumours flew around and phone calls were made to the police in a panic, and the mountain village was in an uproar for a period of time.
“Of course we were surprised. Coming to the countryside all the way from Tokyo, they must be up to something. Thinking back to the Asama-Sanso incident and the lynching incident, we even held two meetings.”
Feeling the Wind and Sound in the Back of the Head
After various disputes, the manager of the post office who was the owner became the guarantor, and they were able to rent the silkworm farming house that had become deserted. Upon discussion, the young people of Dairakudakan agreed to construct a “Butoh monastery.” All of them had closely cropped hair and shaved eyebrows. As they themselves say, this was grounded in the belief that “hairstyles determine history” and that in shaving one’s head, “one’s outlook on the world changes” as well. Even though the young people looked comfortable as they walked along, feeling the wind and sound with the back of their heads, the local people had only the impression of “criminals” in their minds.
But this, too, became a familiar, everyday sight and they ceased to pay attention to it. However, in regards to what is in excess, the body that scrapes off even a single pound of flesh and trains to the point of masochism gave off a kind of bizarre atmosphere. After three months, the deserted house turned into a “Butoh monastery.” Coming in celebration of this, Hijikata, an influential figure in the dance of the darkness, also said in admiration, “This is a good house, it is a real farm house. It has a smell.” It is said that smell is very important to Butoh dancers. The fact that Bishop Yamada, the head of Hoppo Butoh-ha, opens the lids of pickled vegetables to closely investigate the contents may not be unrelated after all.
The name of the monastery is “Hokuryukyo.” The head, Ko Murobushi, produced the Butoh troupe “Sebi” that was based here. According to Akaji Maro, to have a monastery was “to be the head of a domain and castle,” but Murobushi calls it a “coffin.” It was a place to come back to life from death. Under the belief that “Butoh is something from the north,” they chose the Hokuriku region because it was the southern limit of the north.
Seeing them running around the hills, among the raging, violent winds in the cold winter, I pictured the mid-summer sun. Certainly, the body of a Butoh dancer somehow makes one feel the severity of the north.
The 1000 Audience Members from all over Japan
The opening of the performance in celebration of the troupe’s formation was at 6:30 in the evening. Climbing the stairs while being warying of hitting one’s head, the room for silkworm harvesting becomes the stage and sajiki area. In the sajiki area, the guests are tightly packed to full capacity. Akaji Maro had explained that “the idea was for people to become the silkworms in the room that was originally for silkworm harvesting,” and it was exactly that. Holding a plastic bag with their shoes in it and bending their knees, their act of staying motionless as they held their breaths was as if they had become a cocoon. They stayed in this posture for three full hours, watching Butoh.
The programme was “Komuso.” Heavily smeared in mud and his back bathed in flames, Ko Murobushi acted out a mummy and his Butoh gave off a bottomless eeriness. The body that has withstood much abuse, when bathed in a spotlight from within the darkness, takes on a divine quality and gives off a light that most certainly cannot be of this world. Blowing away the pain in the feet and the heat, it was as if we were about to be carried away into hell. Over 300 people came to see this performance every day. As they also came from Hokkaido in the north and Kyushu in the south with the intention of staying overnight, it was bizarre indeed.
The people of Gotaishi that were so happy to be involved in “theatre” again for the first time in a long while had their seats taken away by distant visitors. For this reason, an additional performance only for locals was held.
Including the ward head lady, who said, “Yesterday, and the day before yesterday, I was told it was impossible to see from the sheer amount of people, so I thought to come first thing today,” it was an enjoyment for the entire village. However, it was different than what they had expected. They packed a feast in lunch boxes and even brought thermoses, but there was no intermission, and in addition, the “mummy” that danced on stage made it difficult for them to swallow their food. For the old man as well who went in for “theatre sightseeing,” holding a medium-sized can of alcohol in one hand, there was no time for alcohol. They glared at the stage with deadly serious expressions on their faces.
Calling Out Buddhist Prayers -- The Reproduction of Hell
The impressions from the residents were quite unique.
“That was not the doing of humans. They’re doing stuff that human beings can’t do, it was interesting,” said the man with the alcohol.
“You can’t do something you put your heart and sweat into shabbily,” said the lady next to him. Towards the front, there was an old lady who put her hands together in prayer, saying, “Nanmandabu, nanmandabu.”
“It was as if I was looking at a picture scroll of human beings from their birth to death. When they die suffering and gasping, Buddha comes to save them. I’m glad.” She pressed her hands together again in prayer.
“You should really see it at least once, this. You can understand the really good things and bad things in the beginning, but you can’t understand the stuff in the middle. That’s avant-garde for you.”
That’s what one old man said, but there was nothing to be done about that. On the other hand, Akaji Maro said calmly, “Being told this and that is a good thing, hah hah” and had no intention of reading out an entire essay on art.
That night at the “monastery,” the locals came as well, and they made rice cakes and held a banquet with wild vegetables, bamboo shoots, sazae, and cuttlefish as appetizers, in addition to drinks and song until late into the night. The locals said repeatedly how it was the first time that this many people came since the 14th year of the Showa era. In the 14th year of Showa, the village was buried under a landslide and many rescue parties came running, apparently causing it to become a tumultuous year. As the people said, it was the first festival since the beginning of the village itself.
The festival spanned across four days, and when it entered its fifth day, a storm suddenly struck and admirably brought the festival to a finish. Just when dark clouds enshrouded the summer sky all of a sudden, a tornado came. In just a moment’s time, the storm blew away the flower wreaths and woven flags, tore away the banners, and erased any trace of the festival. It goes without saying that the raiding of the storm was gladly accepted as “a salute from the sky” by the “spirits of the mountains and rivers.”
The reason for this is because “storm” was the theme for Dairakudakan’s Tokyo performance in September (from the 27th to 29th at the Nippon Seinenkan Hall).