By Julian Ross
Gishiki (Oshima, 1971), translated to The Ceremony for its theatrical release in English-speaking countries, framed its narrative around traditional rituals practiced in Japanese culture. In Oshima’s film, these ceremonies marked occasions that brought together members of the central family who witness their family tree collapse as their stories unravel over the span of a lifetime. The word gishiki, the title of the film, was a term often used, by the news media and the artists themselves, for the activities of the Japanese avant-garde in the 1960s. Performance artists, dancers and filmmakers enjoyed ceremonial rituals as a remarkably unrestricted form of artistic expression. Hijikata Tatsumi and Ohno Kazuo’s Ankoku Butoh [Dance of Darkness] were described as rituals in early reviews, and their inaugural performance of Kinjiki [Forbidden Colour] in 1959, a dance interpretation of Mishima Yukio’s novel where a chicken was sacrificed, certainly evokes a liturgy from a bygone era.