Juro Kara, major figure of Japanese counterculture of the 1960s and 1970s, is dead

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Juro Kara at a press conference in Osaka, western Japan, in March 2005. KYODO NEWS VIA AP

A man of the theater and writer, Juro Kara died in Tokyo on May 4 at the age of 84. The day after his death, his company Karagumi (“the Kara band”) premiered a revival of his play The Mud Mermaid. “I played for him”said his daughter, Minyon Otsuru, who plays the leading role in this show.

Juro Kara (real name Yoshihide Otsuru) was one of the pioneers of the theatrical revival of the 1960s, a period of social, political and cultural turmoil, the richest of the post-war period in terms of its creativity. Social mobilization, which began with the fight against the renewal of the security treaty between the United States and Japan and the pacifist movement opposing the war in Vietnam and then the student struggles, translated on the cultural level into a effervescence in which ideas and events nourished each other.

A libertarian spirit, transgressive and irreverent, animated the counterculture (“ andagurando »Or ” angura »that’s to say ” underground ») which drew on foreign influences (surrealism, pop art) and the local carnival tradition, playing on registers of the grotesque, the supernatural, eroticism and violence. A young generation of playwrights, artists, writers and filmmakers denounced with provocative virulence the new forms of social alienation by revealing the shadowy, foreclosed, even “shameful” areas of Japan, using the street as a stage for their happenings.

Cultural personalities still claim to beangura, like director and actor Hideki Noda. “Meeting Kara was the most important event of my life”considers for his part the choreographer and dancer of the butô (dance of darkness) Akaji Maro, co-founder with Juro Kara in 1964 of the Situationist Theater company (Jokyo Gekijo). Rejecting the fluidity of movements to favor the immobility of naked bodies with faces contorted by fear, butô sought to reconnect with the primitive forces of the local imagination.

After studying theater at Meiji University, Juro Kara danced in cabarets to raise funds and stage Jean-Paul Sartre’s play in 1963. There Respectful fucking. Then, in 1967, he created his troupe: Red Tent (Akatento) which set up its trestles in the suburbs and within the grounds of the Hanazono shrine in the Shinjuku district, a hotbed of protest at the time. His shows brought together crowds while the streets embraced violent clashes between students and riot police.

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