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Creepy Photos of Japanese Butoh

Butoh is a Japanese avant garde dance form that draws from Kabuki and Noh and other traditional art forms, imagined in post-WWII Japan by Hijikata Tatsumi and Ohno Kazuo. In a country ravaged by fire and steeped in radiation, this dance embraced the distress the nation was feeling and gave it the pale white face of death. The dancers embody the macabre and the grotesque, wading through a thick atmosphere in slow motion. They are painted head to toe in white, and their faces and bodies contort and shudder in a way that mimics a living corpse. Sex and death, violence and insanity, demons and possession are all a part of the dance; it is weird and uncomfortable to behold.  Check out the documentary Dance of Darkness below, as well as some awesomely creepy photos of dancers performing butoh in the 70s and 80s. Thanks to one of our readers for sending in this idea!

Banner photo: Nourit Masson-Sekine

Photos and Captions via historyofourworld

Kazuo Ohno, Water Lilies, 1987. Photograph by Nourit Masson-Sekine. “Steps of the dead carrying love, bewilderment of the dead searching for love.”


Kazuo Ohno, Dead Sea, 1985. Photograph by Nourit Masson-Sekine. “The dead start running…”


Tatsumi Hijikata, Shizukana le, 1973. Photograph by Makoto Onozuka. “I keep one of my sisters alive in my body when I am absorbed in creating a Butoh piece, she tears off the darkness in my body and eats more than is necessary of it…when she stands up in my body I sit down impulsively.”


Tatsumi Hijikata, Shizukana le, 1973. Photograph by Makoto Onozuka. “My mother used to say: Run with the heart of the blind.”


A Dairakuda-Kan member after a performance in their theatre, 1983. Photograph by Nourit Masson-Sekine.


U. Amagatsu, Unetsu. Photograph by Masafumi Sakamoto.


Unetsu. Photograph by Masafumi Sakamoto.


Sebi. Photograph by Mitsutoshi Hanaga.


Ariadone. Photograph by Mitsutoshi Hanaga.


Natsu Nakajima, The Garden, 1982. Photograph by Nourit Masson-Sekine.


Renai Butoh-ha, choreographed by Tatsumi Hijikata, 1984. Photograph by Masato Okada. “Our bodies love tradition; I feel Butoh when I face my traditional body…Avant-garde is an intense love affair with tradition.” – Min Tanaka.

Written By

Meghan MacRae grew up in Vancouver, Canada, but spent many years living in the remote woods. Living in the shadow of grizzly bears, cougars and the other predators of the wilderness taught her about the dark side of nature, and taught her to accept her place in nature's order as their prey. She is co-founder of CVLT Nation.

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