The Naked Summer

A movie about a summer dance workshop led by Dairakudakan.

Metamorphosis is probably the most exciting event to witness, and that’s exactly what happens in “The Naked Summer,” a film that documents what happens to about 30 youngsters who take a Butoh dance workshop led by Akaji Maro of Dairakudakan in Hakuba, Nagano Prefecture, in 2003.
They jog, cook meals, giggle.
But something extraordinary is about to happen.
Exercises in Butoh are designed to teach the novice the methodology of the dance by confronting those Butoh moments of existence.
Tatsumi Hijikata, the founder of Butoh, is supposed to have said that Butoh is the dance of a corpse.
Students of Butoh were told, as the legend goes, to become a horse, or become a dog, or feel as though their body were covered with ants, and question why your head should be on top of your neck, to achieve the slow, tense and jagged movements that characterize Butoh _ the self-proclaimed antithesis to Western dance.
Watching the youngsters tackle the assignments is fascinating:
_ Feel the space around your body, touching every fingertip, air moving like gel.
_ Sense a tragic accidental moment, even something minor striking, like a splinter piercing your foot.
_ Run and keep laughing.
_ Walk slowly, sliding your feet across the ground, while keeping your head level.
They practice and practice with a passion that’s laughable in its purity. They grimace, stretching and squeezing their facial muscles. They squirm on the floor like worms. They flap their arms, bend their bodies repeatedly, they do lifts until their backs hurt. They collapse on the floor in exhaustion.
But in the act of doing, zenlike, they become Butoh dancers.
The weeklong workshop culminates in an evening performance at an outdoor theater.
When the boys get their heads and eyebrows shaved off, the transformation is almost complete.
The youngsters cut cloth, using patterns, and sew bikini panties _ the sole items of costuming.
By the time they nervously don makeup, painting their bodies with gold paint, they are already strangers, animals from hell trapped in sinewy bodies of Buddhas.
The movie juxtaposes footage of the professional troupe’s performances with scenes from the workshop.
And that’s an eye-opener.
Having watched the novices struggle akwwardly with the simplest Butoh moves that we have seen so often performed effortlessly by the professionals, we now appreciate with more intensity the experienced dancers’ chiseled bodies and controlled movements.
Maro’s body at 60 has never been so stunningly beautiful as we watch him smile, crack jokes, lecture and gaze on with wisdom at those who are trying to take up this legacy of Japanese postwar art.
We know he knows he is running out of time to leave that understanding to the young, and we witness Maro’s recognition of his inevitable death and his sense of urgency.
We are also struck by how unique, definitive and awesome Butoh is as an art form and how it is relevant to the world today and the future these youngsters inherit.
Still, the movie, directed by Kenji Okabe, intentionally doesn’t bother to give the participants’ names, backgrounds.
They are blurs of faces.
They came and they lived a week as Butoh dancers and they will never be the same.
That’s the story this movie wants to tell.
A regular documentary might have gone back, asking some of them for a reaction, demonstrating their return to the everyday.
Instead, the movie simply shows another summer has come _ jogging and exercising under the sunlight is another batch of kids who has come to be reborn as Butoh dancers.