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Live by the sword: Samurai group fights demons at Japanese festival

Dance with swords: Members of Samurai Sword Soul will be performing their sword dance at the Sakura Matsuri Cherry Blossom Festival on April 28 and 29.
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It’s the cutting edge of comedy!

Swords will flash as demons and samurai do battle at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden this weekend. As part of the 36th annual Sakura Matsuri festival of Japanese culture on April 29–30, the martial arts dance group Samurai Sword Soul will perform “Teardrop of a Demon,” a tightly choreographed tale of supernatural figures that is also filled with laughs and drama, said group’s director.

“It’s a story about a demon who is interested in the human world, and his best friend who has an opposite thought,” said Yoshi Amao, who founded the group. “They come to the human world to rescue a trapped samurai and get in trouble — it’s a lot of comedy but it’s also serious too.”

The Japanese sword fighting group has appeared at the annual cherry blossom festival every years since 2003, but this year’s show is a departure for them, said Amao. Mythical figures take a much larger role in the show than usual, and it will leave guests questioning which side to root for, he said.

“Demons are the main cast and that’s the biggest difference — they have their own point of view, and it is so different from human’s one but we cannot tell who is right objectively,” he said. “It is not only a philosophical, but also a fun and exciting entertainment show packed with a lot of action with swords and bo sticks and comedy scenes.”

During the 45-minute show, 17 dancers dressed in samurai armor will hack and slash at each other with spinning, shining blades. But you don’t have to worry about the actors — the weapons are wooden katanas painted to look like metal.

“It’s too dangerous if we use a real sword, said Amao. “Our sword fighting requires very quick movement and if we use real swords we may get injured easily.”

Two live musicians will also provide a soundtrack for the performance, using the djembe, an African drum, and the fut — a traditional three-stringed Japanese guitar.

Samurai Sword Soul will perform on both Saturday and Sunday afternoon of the festival, and the group is looking to seeing the audience’s reaction to this year’s show.

“They will laugh, and they can cry and can be healed,” said Amao. “People will enjoy the sword fighting drama and they’ll never get bored — that’s why our performers are so popular every year. We really appreciate entertaining people.”

The festival will feature more than 60 other Japanese cultural events during its two days, including a dance party, live music, origami workshops, tea ceremonies, and more. Amao, who also serves at the festival’s master of ceremony, said he is especially looking forward to the outfits in the cosplayer fashion show.

“One time I found a cosplayer wearing very nice samurai armor — it was gorgeous and very nice and much better than our costumes,” said Amao. “The cosplaying has increased and it’s so amazing.”

Samurai Sword Soul at Brooklyn Botanic Garden [990 Washington Ave. between President and Carroll streets in Prospect Heights, (718) 623–7200, www.bbg.org]. April 29 at 2:30 pm, April 30 at 2 pm. Sakura Matsuri Festival lasts April 29–30, 10 am–6 pm. $30 (kids under 12 free).

Reach reporter Alexandra Simon at (718) 260–8310 or e-mail her at asimon@cnglocal.com.
Updated 5:59 pm, July 9, 2018
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