If you love dance you probably chose it because dance disappears the moment it is executed. You cannot own dance. Dance is a permanently vacant lot, a beautiful space you cannot possess.
My new dance project is a film.
It is ironic that a dancer seeks to capture the moment and make dance last for a long time. I make a film the same way I choreograph and direct dancers. The economy of film is great: no rehearsal or stage. Film carries the presence of the performers to places they could never go. In other words, I take the performers to places and have them seen by people they have never met—impossible with a live performance. That is probably why I want to make a film, but I am not sure it is the only reason.
The film’s title is: Hangman Takuzo. Hangman Takuzo is a Japanese performance artist who hangs himself everyday from a tree in his garden. He has been practicing the art of suspension for over 40 years. Hangman Takuzo is not his real name, but the name by which he lives and is known in the underground art community in Tokyo.
Here are conversations with Hangman Takuzo that took place during shooting:
What was your original motivation for hanging?
Takuzo: I started hanging myself in 1969. I originally wanted to disappear from here. I wondered if I could really do that. Hanging is a Japanese tradition, or rather, a global tradition, the act of disappearing. I wanted to disappear while pain still remained in my body. So I decided to carry my pain as I hang. When I say “pain” I do not mean pain like a pain in the hand. I mean the total pain of being. It was like getting away from something inside of me. It began as a form of escape.
How did you start training to hang yourself?
Takuzo: In the beginning there was no way of practicing hanging. When I tried, I passed out. So I went to a Jyu-do (martial arts) master and asked him to make me unconscious. This is called “drop” in martial arts or making the opponent lose his consciousness. He could “drop” me, but my problem was regaining consciousness by myself.
Then I decided to strengthen my neck muscles. I hung heavy weights from my neck and pulled them over and over. I practiced this quite a lot.
At the beginning, I could hang for only 10 seconds. I had a sound cue so I could count 10 seconds while hanging. 10 seconds started from zero. It went zero, one, two, three…I used to show it on stage and afterwards said to myself that I would never do this shit again! But I did hang myself again. I went back and forth. Eventually, I was able to hang for up to 50 seconds.
One day, I asked myself “what are you going to do now?” Till then, I had done all kinds of physical performances on stage. But I thought, if I were to hang myself every day, I could whip the boredom of my daily life. With hanging, I realized, I might be able to live!
Takuzo’s girlfriend is the well-known Japanese dancer Mika Kurosawa, who also appears in “Hangman Tazuko.” Here is what she says about her lover’s art form:
When did you first see Takuzo hanging?
Kurosawa: I saw him hang for the first time in a theater. I had heard about Takuzo and did not like the idea at all. I automatically thought that hanging meant showing the act of suicide even if as performance. There were a lot of people around me then who were giving up on life, abandoning their will, disappearing or dying. I had lost some of my closest friends, so his act naturally echoed my situation and I thought: “Not suicide again, enough of that.”
Then one day, I finally saw him hanging. The experience was nothing like suicide. In fact, it was the opposite of death. The performance showed a person actively trying to live. I saw the warmth of being and a yearning for life that was full of joy. At that time, Beethoven’s music accompanied the performance. It seemed that while hanging, his state was euphoric. As a dancer, I know that state of mind and body, when dance happens inside of me and begins heading where I want it to go, I am overcome by euphoria. When I saw him, I envied his euphoria. That was my strongest impression. Why? He looked so beautiful and happy. It was nothing like I had expected and I learned for the first time that hanging could be an ecstatic experience.
What is dance for you?
Kurosawa: It keeps changing. I used to say the opposite 10 years ago. But now I think dance is transformation. The dancer has to transform him/herself into a human or open the door to the body transforming itself. It doesn’t mean that I turn into a butterfly or whatever. My body is conscious of my ego. But when dance starts taking place, the body overtakes the dance and consciousness retreats and that is the starting point of dance beginning.
Mika invited Namiko Kawamura to appear in the movie. Namiko is Mika’s ultimate dance artist and she recommended that Namiko be in the film. Namiko’s art is called “Zenshin-Hoko,” or “naked walking forward.” Namiko walks forward naked outdoors in nature and has been making her art for over 30 years.
In the film, Hangman Takuzo hangs himself while Namiko Kawamura walks forward naked and Mika Kurosawa dances her dance in this little house on an island off Hiroshima.
The movie is currently in post-production. I am working on getting funds to hire an editor since I don’t know how to use Final Cut Pro. The movie Hangman Takuzo will be presented as soon as the movie is edited. I don’t know when that will be.
YASUKO YOKOSHI is a choreographer based in New York City.