Akaji Maro is a master of Butou, a form of modern dance that pursues the untraditional movement of the body and defies the convention of the human body. Each year, during the summer, Maro and the members of Dairakudakan invite both professional and curious dancers to train with him. Director Kenji Okabe documents one classes experience with the dance master.
Butou was a dance movement began by Hijikata Tatsumi in the late 1950’s Japan. Using expressionist ideals, he created a dance that required that not only the actor be capable of expressing emotions through movement instead of words, but also conveys ideas and emotions to each viewer to interpret. Through the use of minimalist costumes, music and sets, the focus is on the actors and their expressions. Often covered in white powder, the actors take on an otherworldly manifestation that is both mysterious and familiar at the same time. Maro studied with Hijikata Tatsumi and established Dairakudakan, a dance company dedicated to the art of Butou.
The film follows one summer’s worth of dancers as they train to give performances. The hard work and tightly choreographed pieces are intermixed with Maro’s philosophy. Rather than just merely teach the individual moves, he seeks to have the actors relearn how their body moves, and how it does not, and to emphasize that. The point is to learn their place in a physical world, and their actions, reactions and common movements must be replaced by ones that are universal, recognizable and obtainable by each viewer.
While the film covers the troupe, we only get an overview of the guests themselves. The film is squarely focused on Maro and his creative focus. While there are comments and discussions with the dancers, the viewer never gets to know them as much about them or as intimately as Maro. As such, the film doesn’t show a full transformation from start to finish, but rather shows dancers learning a new style of dance. They rehearse and finally perform the piece as Maro has prepared it, a wonderful fusion of sight and sound that transforms the individual dancers into a moving expressionist ideal.