The Naked Summer

Bottom Line: Mesmerizing but only partially enlightening doc on an extraordinary dance form.

Pusan International Film Festival

BUSAN, South Korea -- "The Naked Summer," Okabe Kenji's directorial debut, chronicles a summer program studying Butoh, an alternative Japanese dance form. Akaji Maro, one of the Butoh's most prominent purveyors, is front and center, as is his own troupe, the Dairakuda-kan. This fascinating yet somewhat detached look at one of the world's most innovative and influential dance companies is strictly film festival fodder.

Okabe follows one class for the 2003 summer at the Hakuba Institute in Nakano. Students from all over the world, largely Asia and Japan, attend. A common thread seems to be the sense of freedom the demands Butoh ironically inspire: A few students comment on feeling uninhibited for the first time in their lives. It's a shame we don't get to learn more about them.

The emphasis on control and on the body (greater than in many other dance forms) informs everything the dancers do. Marked by the dancers' painted bodies (the only "costume" they wear onstage) and exaggerated facial expressions, its most basic exercise is as precise as it is loaded with meaning.

After three decades at the helm of the Dairakuda-kan, Akaji remains witty, enigmatic, quick to reflect on his work and just as quick to force viewers to interpret for themselves. He's an excellent subject that makes it easy to forgive the film's lack of context and background on the institute's pupils.

THE NAKED SUMMER
A Telecom Staff Inc. production
Credits:
Director: Okabe Kenji
Producer: Naoko Otomo
Director of photography: Yamazaki Yutaka
Music: Chino Shuichi
Editor: Fukumoto Hiroshi

Running time -- 101 minutes
No MPAA rating
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