Tatsumi Hijikata and Kazuo Ohno

Butoh (舞踏, Butō) is a form of Japanese dance theatre that encompasses a diverse range of activities, techniques and motivations for dance, performance, or movement. Following World War II, butoh arose in 1959 through collaborations between its two key founders, Tatsumi Hijikata and Kazuo Ohno. The art form is known to “resist fixity”[1] and is difficult to define; notably, founder Hijikata Tatsumi viewed the formalisation of butoh with “distress”.[2] Common features of the art form include playful and grotesque imagery, taboo topics, and extreme or absurd environments. It is traditionally performed in white body makeup with slow hyper-controlled motion. However, with time butoh groups are increasingly being formed around the world, with their various aesthetic ideals and intentions.

Ankoku butoh is an original Japanese dance form that emerged in the mid to late 1950s in Tokyo. Co-founded by Hijikata Tatsumi and Ohno Kazuo, it was an artistic response to social conditions as the nation of Japan underwent radical shifts from Imperial Japan’s engagement in the Asia-Pacific war (1931–1945), to defeat and US-led Occupation of Japan (1945–1952) and the formation of the US-Japan alliance within the cold war division system. In this chapter I explore how the atomic bombs dropped by the United States on Hiroshima and Nagasaki on 6 and 9 August 1945 and the hibakusha (people exposed to the atomic blast 被爆者 and radiological effects 被曝者) it produced can be seen reflected, in both a conscious and subconscious manner, in the artistic works and approach of ankoku butoh. The impact of this historical event was not limited to the concentrated devastation wrought by the atomic bombs. Rather, the fusing of the atomic bombs and human hibakusha and the permanent alteration of living organisms due to direct exposure to this force was symptomatic of broader societal changes underway both before and after Hiroshima and Nagasaki due to the military, industrial and epistemological systems required to devise, construct and use the atomic apparatus. One way of conceiving of this apparatus is as a modality or way of seeing, which for purposes of brevity and utility I call the ‘atomic gaze’. In this chapter I suggest how ankoku butoh, as it developed over time, can be seen as a creative and prototypical form of resistance to the force of this atomic gaze and its myriad impacts. This is intended to contribute conceptual ways of approaching social and cultural histories in the post-1945 period.

Adam Broinowski
The atomic gaze and Ankoku Butoh in post-war Japan

Kazuo Ohno The Written Face

Kazuo Ono, The Dead Sea
A short clip of butoh’s co-founder Kazuo Ono dancing. Date unknown, approximately 1980 (no later than 1989), from the documentary Dance of Darkness by Edin Velez.

Tatsumi Hijikata – あんま Anma ( The Masseur ) 1963
Dir. Takahiko Iimura
Dancers: Tatsumi Hijikata, Kazuo Ohno, Yoshito Ohno, Akira Kasai and Others.
Music: Tomomi Adachi (Composed in 2007)

Tatsumi Hijikata – バラ色ダンス Rose Color Dance (1965)
Dancers: Tatsumi Hijikata, Kazuo Ohno, Yoshito Ohno and Others.
Music: Tomomi Adachi (Composed in 2007)

Navel and A-Bomb (Heso to genbaku) Eikoh Hosoe and Tatsumi Hijikata
In Hosoe Eikoh’s film Navel and A-Bomb, featuring Hijikata Tatsumi and his choreography, the (Japanese) body is connected to the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki and the utter destruction of Japan. Navel and A-Bomb (1960) figures the ‘birth’ of a new Japanese identity in the wake of the atomic catastrophe, the subsequent defeat and occupation of Japan.

Hosoe met Hijikata the year prior to Navel and A-Bomb. In 1959 Hijikata choreographed and performed Kinjiki (Forbidden Colors), based on the homosexual imagery found in Yukio Mishima’s novel of the same name published in 1951.