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Trillian's avatar

Can anybody break this down for me? Knowledge of Japanese culture required.

Asked by Trillian (21062 points ) March 31st, 2012

Ok, so I’ve been putting off going to bed because I’m watching a movie and occasionally checking Fluther. The movie is City of Life and Death, and it’s about the rape of Nanking.
I’m nearly to the end when this scene came up. I find it utterly entrancing, and stirring despite the context.
I’m sure that each movement of the hands means something, each step, and even the posture of the dancers. The drums, as always, awaken something entirely primal within me and I’m sure that there are very sound psychological reasons for using the drums in specific occasions.
I’d like to see more of this type of dance, but you tube is not coughing up much. I would also like explanations of the movements and what they are shouting if anyone happens to know.
Any information would be greatly appreciated by me.

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6 Answers

gailcalled's avatar

Read the comments under this version on youtube

There are some useful observations about the ritual which seems to have been invented for the movie.

Hawaii_Jake's avatar

I lived in Japan for a long time, but even I don’t know the meaning of the movements. Japanese dance is akin to hula; each movement has a meaning, each step is significant.

Taiko drums are a popular instrument in Japan. I entered taiko drum in the YouTube search engine and got a plethora of choices.

I also entered Japanese dance and got a lot, too. However, some were silly. Entering Japanese military dance came up with very few hits.

@gailcalled‘s link is the best source for information about this dance.

mazingerz88's avatar

So far the info I got about the dance says it was to appease the souls of the dead Japanese soldiers who died there. The dance was part of the appeasement. As well as the slaughter of all the Chinese prisoners following the dance.

Trillian's avatar

@gailcalled thank you. I would never have read the comments. I’ve seen you tube comments before and they generally seem to be written by…. I’ll just say people whose comments don’t interest me. So as a rule I don’t ever look at them. Bon-odori huh? All I was getting was guys on stage, and while they are amazing, they didn’t really show me what I was looking for.
Thank you.

Pandora's avatar

—@Trillian My mind couldn’t help but see it as a slow version of the Jets against the Sharks
As for about the primal reaction to drums, I’ve always thought it may have a connection to hearing your mothers heart beat during the gestation period. Babies love the sound of a heartbeat once born and I think that desire to hear a beating sound stays with us always and is comforting but at the same time the different beats can heighten our senses and make us anxious. I’m sure when we were in our mothers bellys and her heart quicken, the andrenoline rushed though us as well, and made us anxious. So it becomes a taught response. I’m sure we would feel the heart beats way before we heard it as well.

wundayatta's avatar

I’ve seen a lot of dance in my life, and I have a few reactions that you may or may not find helpful. To put it in context, most of the dance I am familiar with is improvisational. It is about the movement itself, and that is where I am coming from. I put myself into the movement and imagine the emotional content of the movement.

I have actually studied Butoh dance. It is a Japanese dance, but is quite different from what we see in this film. It is a very slow form of dance and it leads to very different places. In addition, I am a drummer and I have an understanding of Taiko style drumming. I’ve also had exposure to Aikido and studied the Bushido philosophy, a tiny bit.

The first thing I would call your attention to is the posture of the marchers. Notice how they are crouched over and they stay in this posture the whole time. Their legs are bent out and they walk on their toes. They are like birds.

There are two other major motions I remember; one with the hands and one with the arms. The hands—one palm forward in front of the face and the other palm back, then switching them, reminds me of yin-yang—the cycle of life. The arm movements accompanied by stamping legs is very martial and very much about stomping on the losers. It is the stabbing of the swoard into the person’s chest as they lie on the ground. It is rubbing it in. We killed you.

Another arm movement is about sweeping everything away in the path. It, too, is about strength and victory. It says you had no chance before us.

The crouching thing is something you see in dragon dances. It is also the movement of a cock in a cock fight. The Japanese have vanquished the Chinese here, so they could be appropriating the Chinese symbol of the dragon. But they are clearly saying their mojo is way better than the Chinese mojo.

The last thing I would comment on is the “boom boom cha” rhythm. It is the same as the rhythm from “we will, we will rock you!” It’s the rhythm of victors and it is pretty universal, I’d guess. I mean, I know it from the US, but now seeing it here makes me think it isn’t unique in any way, shape or form.

I don’t really think this is all that complicated, nor that there is much hidden in the symbolism. I’m sure you got all this. It was pretty hard-ass and straight-forward.

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