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 in Imperial Japan’s engagement in the Asia-Pacific war (1931–1945), defeat and US-led Occupation of Japan (1945–1952) and the US-Japan alliance within the cold war division system. In this paper 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 was symptomatic of broader changes that were underway during Occupation. Not only were the lives of living organisms permanently altered due to direct exposure to this force, entire societies were impacted both before and after Hiroshima and Nagasaki by the military, industrial and epistemological systems required to devise, construct and use it.
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’. Of the many and multifaceted, realist and abstracted, grounded and surrogate artistic renderings of this event, in the poetic phrases and movements of ankoku butoh of the late 1950s and early 1960s I explore how Hijikata and Ohno responded to the atomic gaze as a driver underlying the Occupation. I also identify how this response as it developed over time can be regarded as a creative and prototypical form of resistance to the force of this atomic gaze. This is intended to contribute conceptual ways of approaching social and cultural histories in the post-1945 period and to our understandings of the present.
About Cultural Responses to Occupation in Japan
Cultural Responses to Occupation in Japan examines how the performing arts, and the performing body specifically, have shaped and been shaped by the political and historical conditions experienced in Japan during the Cold War and post-Cold War periods. This study of original and secondary materials from the fields of theatre, dance, performance art, film and poetry, probes the interrelationship that exists between the body and the nation-state. Important artistic works, such as Ankoku Butoh (dance of darkness) and its subsequent re-interpretation by a leading political performance company Gekidan Kaitaisha (theatre of deconstruction), are analysed using ethnographic, historical and theoretical modes. This approach reveals the nuanced and prolonged effects of military, cultural and political occupation in Japan over a duration of dramatic change.
“Each individual aspect of this book is solid and persuasive, but taken as a whole, the project holds true importance ... The work is valuable to a wide audience, as well, speaking as it does to issues of history, geopolitics, exploitation, theatre, cinema, occupation, and resistance.” – Electronic Journal of Contemporary Japanese Studies
“Introducing discourses of colonization and semi-colonialization to his interpretation, Adam Broinowski provides a way to understand Ankoku Butoh as a reaction to the condition of occupation, conceived broadly as a condition suffered by those who are the targets of concerted state violence, spanning from concentration camps, civilian bombing, and the atomic bombs, to the war on terror, and mass surveillance of the contemporary moment. Himself a performer, Broinowski's interpretive paradigms are especially valuable not only in suggesting sources of Butoh's global relevance but also in attending convincingly to the specificities of performative experience and their significance. It is one of the few historical treatments which appears adequate to the profundity and idiosyncrasy of Butoh performance itself.” – Justin Jesty, University of Washington, USA
Adam Broinowski is a visiting fellow in the School of Culture, History and Language, where he is currently completing his ARC Discovery Early Career Research Award (DECRA) entitled ‘Contaminated Life: ‘Hibakusha’ in Japan in the Nuclear Age.’ His monograph Cultural Responses to Occupation in Japan: The Performing Body during and after the Cold War was published by Bloomsbury Academic in 2016. His research areas include cultural and historical studies of modern and contemporary Japan and East Asia, critical theory and performance studies and environment, energy and security politics in the Asia Pacific.