Like A Butterfly (Lukas Zpira in Japan DVD) [The BME Book Review]

DVD available at BMEshop

Like a Butterfly
DVD: Lukas Zpira Japan Tour

On a recent trip to Namibia (in Africa for those that don’t know their geography) our flight routed through London Heathrow in the United Kingdom. Standing a few feet in front of us in line was Lukas Zpira, his daughter Mayliss, and his wife Satomi! It turns out that they were returning from a long tour across Japan and just happened to pass through customs at the same moment as Rachel and I. Before we parted, Lukas gave me a copy of the documentary DVD that Ryoichi Maeda had released about his time in Japan.

I’ve known Lukas for seven or eight years both personally and professionally and have a great deal of respect for him as an artist — both technically and in terms of the fine art and philosophy aspect — as a performer, and as a friend. Lukas is one of a very small number of scarification artists whose work can be recognized by its design factors (which I feel is one of the marks of a true artist, rather than simply someone who is accomplished at their craft), and in part because of that, and in part because I felt running into him was a “sign” that the time was right (yeah, laugh it up), I asked Lukas to do a cutting on my face a few weeks later (story coming soon).

Glowing review on both the cutting and the DVD from me.

I enjoyed this DVD immensely, and although I think he thinks it’s a little rough around the edges, it gives an excellent insight into what motives Lukas Zpira and what makes him tick as an artist. In addition, it contains highly detailed and closeup footage of him performing implants and cuttings, as well as performance footage. It’s not a how-to or anything of the sort, but it shows much more than any other documentary on him ever has. In any case, it’s obvious that I’m a fan — so in order to get a less biased review, I asked BME’s Jordan Ginsberg (who recently reported on Lukas’s Mexico Trip in his article Hola Gringo) to look it over and let us know what he thought.

Like A Butterfly
Review by Jordan Ginsberg

The Like A Butterfly DVD had been sitting on my desk for about two weeks before I finally got around to watching it. I wasn’t avoiding it, but apparently living in Mexico is conducive to lethargy. And alcoholism. But mostly lethargy.

I’m rather surprised by the lack of film releases devoted to heavier modification work and ritual practices in general; these areas have so much to offer visually — and are, by and large, covered extensively by photographers — but have seldom made the transition to retail video. Like A Butterfly, directed by Eric Bossick and produced by Ryoichi “Keroppy” Maeda (IAM:RYOICHI), is a wonderfully shot, personal account of Lukas Zpira’s exploits while touring through Japan. With the low-end rumble of Deseptagon’s electronic beats providing the soundtrack, the 50 minute movie provides a glimpse into the procedures of one of the world’s most talented and respected body artists.

The movie begins with one of several interview segments with Lukas that are interspersed throughout the rest of the footage. Providing a short primer about himself, he explains his history as an artist and how traditional visual arts were somewhat unfulfilling — until he realized that he could use the human body as a canvas.

Divided up into separate chapters for Cutting, Skin-Removal Scarification, Tongue Splitting, Implants, and Suspension — most of which are prefaced by another interview segment with Lukas that pertains to the work at hand — the film offers viewers procedural footage that may be entirely new terrain to them. Seeing pictures of, say, a skin removal scarification piece is one thing, but watching in real-time as Lukas deftly cuts away at the underside of a young man’s chin as blood faucets out is another experience altogether. Which is another thing: This is a graphic film. Lukas makes no bones about his love of blood, and this DVD certainly represents that. Nudity is mostly kept to a minimum (nothing below the belt), though there is one truly surreal scene in a club where a young man — who, mind you, is inexplicably bare naked — is furiously masturbating his pixellated penis while Lukas performs a cutting in the foreground. Other than that, the occasional bare-breasted, slightly bloody Japanese girl is all one has to look forward to in this department.

(Somewhere in California, Rivers Cuomo’s ears just perked up. I will bet money on this.)

Lukas’ interview segments, while occasionally difficult to decipher due to the video camera’s microphone being the sole audio source (it seems), are certainly worth watching. He often avoids going into too much detail about the work itself, and instead waxes philosophical; outlining his theories and methodologies about body modification and, in some ways, humanity in general, Lukas certainly presents himself not as a simple cutter or practitioner, but as a very real artist with a clear vision and sense of direction about his life, career and ideas. Lukas, too, is about as charming as they come — eternally at ease on camera and fully content with his status as something of a rock star in the community. Even if there is difficulty understanding him at times, you will be glad to re-watch his segments to catch what you might have missed; his glowing personality and candor are infectious.

It was, however, the footage of the procedural scenes that scored highest with me. Filmed with only one camera, Lukas’ work is documented extremely clearly and vividly here — and again, this may be some peoples’ first opportunity to see these procedures performed on video, rather than just seeing photographs. Not to marginalize the community’s photographers either, but there are obviously fundamental differences between experiencing these acts through different media.

The bulk of the footage is shot in typical piercing studios; cutting, peeling, tongue splitting and implant videos have all been filmed in typically sterile rooms. The camerawork is sharp and precise; the multitude of close-up shots (they dominate the footage) showcase Lukas’ steady precision, and give viewers potential insights into one of the modern master’s techniques.

As I mentioned in my report on my trip to BodyFest in Mexico City, Lukas is one of the most confident people I’ve ever seen work in this field, and easily one of the fastest — he makes this stuff look simple, and in spite of being acutely aware of his own abilities, he remains terribly humble. His young daughter, Mayliss, is even present for much of the filming; during one woman’s cutting, she gently strokes her hair to help soothe and relax her. Having grown up around this sort of thing, she is completely unfazed by the work her father does — she’s even hanging out in the club (the site of the aforementioned pixellated masturbator) that acts as the setting for the remainder of the footage, which is largely suspension performances. Those partaking in the suspensions generally appear to be relative novices though — it almost seems to be more of a SusCon vibe than an actual show. With a crowd of cheering onlookers, Lukas assists each of the participants with his or her rite, every pained wince and blissful moment caught on film.

In one of the film’s most touching moments, Dita (BMEjapan), after landing back on the ground following her suspension, falls into Lukas’ arms as ecstatic tears stream down her face, thanking him over and over again. Lukas, as usual, is all smiles.

Like A Butterfly is hardly the definitive procedural film — that film hasn’t been made yet, and I don’t think that’s what is trying to be achieved here. As documentation of Lukas’ expertise, footage the likes of which is rarely seen for sale these days, and a look into methods and philosophy of one of the most talented body modification artists practicing today, however, it succeeds admirably.

Shameless plug: Buy the DVD at BMEshop

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