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Japanese Deconstructions of the Female Body

  • Katherine Mezur


H Art Chaos stands out from other Japanese performance troupes as it performs against traditions. The troupe is a all-woman ensemble directed by a woman whose aim is to wage war on the culturally constructed Japanese female body. Oshima Sakiko, the director, and Shirakawa Naoko, the main solo performer, combine their visions of violence to extract the most precise gesture, exact timing, flawless shape, and perfect prop to project those images to rigorous excess. They focus on a kind of distortion and extreme manipulation of the female body which evokes painful kinaesthetic sensations. Their choreography produces discomfort, strain, and anguish through frantic, wrenching movement which aims at stressing the performer's body to the point of explosion or dismemberment. While their movement is based in modern, jazz, and ballet dance idioms, they push the stereotyped and classic vocabulary beyond pretty lines and feel-good sensations. They take technique to the point of excess in order to undo its forms They play with the overt meanings of props and costumes and destabilize those readings, like metaphors in a waking dream where their daily meaning drops out.



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1. H Art Chaos is spelled in various ways. In Japanese it is rendered in katakana as ‘H Ar Kaos’, but in several articles in English and Japanese it appears as H. Art Chaos, H Art Chaos, H ART CHAOS or H ART CHAOS.

2. Fortier, Mark, Theory/Theatre (London: Routledge, 1997), pp. 38–9.

3. H Art Chaos, Rite of Spring (after Stravinsky) Abyss, choreographed and directed by Oshima Sakiko, performed by Shirakawa Naoko and company, Dorothy Betts Marvin Theater, Washington, D.C., 11 November 1997. The performance examined here was on a tour abroad. While I will not discuss this here, works that travel abroad are often different from what is performed in their home culture and they gradually change through a transcultural processing. In other works performed for her Tokyo audience, Oshima often plays with iconography that may not be easily understood abroad, such as, for example, her Japanese ‘schoolgirl’ version of Swan Lake.

4. Klein, Susan Blakeley, Ankoku Butô (Ithaca: East Asia Program, 1988), p. 5.

5. Ibid., p. 1.

6. Ibid., p. 9.

7. Ritchie, Donald, ‘Japan's Avant-Garde Theatre’, in Klein, , Ankoku Butô, p. 17.

8. Nario, Goda, ‘On Ankoku Butô’, in Klein, , Ankoku Butô, p. 85.

9. See the following for media images and impact: Buckley, Sandra, ‘“Penguin in Bondage”, A Graphic Tale of Japanese Comic Books’, in Penley, Constance & Ross, Andrew, eds., Technoculture (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1991); Allison, Anne, Permitted and Prohibited Desires (Boulder: Westerview Press, 1996); Silver-berg, Miriam, ‘The Modern Girl as Militant’, in Bernstein, Gail Lee, ed., Recreating Japanese Women, 1600–1945 (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1991), pp. 239266.

10. The Edo period (1600–1868) is considered a pivotal time period when popular art forms infiltrated every level of society dictating their fashions, tastes, and aesthetics.

11. Mezur, Katherine, The Kabuki Onnagata: A Feminist Analysis of the Onnagata Fiction of Female-likeness (Ann Arbor: UMI, 1998). See Chapter VI, ‘The Aesthetic Principles’. See also, Masakatsu, Gunji, Kabuki no Bigaku (Tokyo: Engeki Shuppansha, Showa 34, 1963).

12. Mezur, , The Kabuki Onnagata, Chapter VI.

13. Tamasaburô, Bandô, personal interview, Tokyo, 1993. I interviewed fifteen of the active, major families of onna-gata during my research in Tokyo between 1990 and 1995.

14. Ennosuke, Ichikawa III, personal interview, Tokyo, 1993.

15. Kozel, Susan, ‘The Story Is Told as a History of the Body’ in Desmond, Jane C., ed., Meaning and Motion (Durham: Duke University Press, 1997), p. 103.

16. Levi, Antonia, Samurai from Outer Space: Understanding Japanese Animation (Chicago: Cams Publishing Company, 1997). See Chapter V, ‘Androids, Cyborgs, and other Mecha’, and Chapter VII, ‘Outrageous Women’.

17. Bubblegum Crisis (series), Artmic/Youmex, English version: AnimeEigo Inc., 1988.

18. Mamoru, Oshii, dir., Ghost in the Shell, a film by Masamune Shirô, Manga Entertainment, 1995.

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Japanese Deconstructions of the Female Body

  • Katherine Mezur


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