Claire suggested me this promo video by Canon, showing off the amazing capabilities of the 5D Mark II model camera. Interestingly enough, Canon used Noh for the concept of this advertisement. The images are just gorgeous and I love the superimposition of movements and non-Noh music. Philologically, the autumn sequences are a bit out of place as Hagoromo, the play shown, is a Spring play ‘par excellence’. The authors were probably inspired more by the colours of the choken, the dance cloak the shite wears in the second half of the play. Though my impression of the video is very positive, I know other people in the Noh would be annoyed by what is sometimes considered an over-aestheticisation of what should be more austere and less flashy. However, Noh is not in the Taisho era anymore and I wonder to what extent it is possible (and meaningful?) to leave it as it was…
Another children-oriented TV version of a popular Kyogen piece, 千鳥 Chidori. This time featuring the multi-faceted Nomura Mansai.
Any non-Japanese Noh enthusiast has sooner or later faced the bitter truth about the scarce interest of his or her Japanese peers. ‘reminds me of my grandpa’.. ‘it’s stuff only good for ojisan’.. ‘isn’t it called Kabuki?’ are only some of the responses I heard from young Japanese when engaged in a conversation on what I think is the most beautiful thing on the planet. Most of the young generation do not have a clue of what Noh is, and do not bother at all. Its language (performative, poetic, visual) does not speak to the contemporary audience – or, contemporary audience grew too illiterate to be able to understand it. Noh world has lost touch with its audience: it just takes you to go to an average Noh performance to realise the average age is around 60. Shocking, if you are used to go to the Globe.
Among the various attempts at healing this broken bound, and reconnect with the lost audience are workshops, demonstrations, exhibitions, inviting non-habitual Noh theatregoers to give it a try. In summer 2008 I attended a most interesting Parents and Children Noh performance at the National Noh Theatre in Tokyo. The programme featured a funny and engaging introductory speech by a Kyogen actor, followed by the Kyogen Kaminari (‘The God of Thunder’) and the Noh Kokaji (‘The Fox Swordsmith’).
Both plays are very dynamic pieces in the repertoire and in fact resulted in a big success: kids (8 years old on the average) laughed out loud during Kaminari and jumped on their chairs during Kokaji, imitating fights with the magic sword. Children and parents had also the chance to try out instruments and masks in the theatre lobby. Among the cutest features of the day was the printed programme, introducing Noh and its elements in a deformed manga style. I loved this day at the National Noh Theatre as much as the kids did. How long before they lose their interest?
The allure of Noh theatre reaches the world of videogames. The new release of the popular Tekken features a stage on a Noh stage – along with an interesting soundtrack with nohkan and ko-tsuzumi. At first I didn’t realise, then I zoomed a little and… check out the soundtrack and the pictures below. I am trying to figure out what play it is – judging from the costume and what look like candles on the headpiece my guess is Kanawa.
I normally despise English puns on ‘Noh’, usually lame and trite. But after reading the delightful report of a Noh performance I found on a blog by WK Hellestal that I copy below, I couldn’t refrain from doing one myself. I personally sympathise with the spectators who really cannot cope with the Noh dramatic devices, and come up with the most fanciful observations – the variety of reactions that Noh theatre can generate is just amazing.
My first visit to the local Noh theater. I didn’t understand a damn thing, but apparently the performances are done in classical Japanese, so I’m not sure how much the native audience understood either.
Masks were interesting. Costumes were beautiful. Drumming and random shouting were cool. But I need a story, so I made one up in my head as I watched. A brief summary of the first act, as interpreted by me.
Ghost A: I don’t like you.
Ghost B: I don’t like you either.
Ghost A: Can we agree to put aside our differences for the moment, in order to join forces to terrorize these helpless townspeople?
Ghost B: My distaste for you has been ameliorated somewhat by the undeniable allure of your plan.
Mayor: No! Don’t terrorize us! We’re helpless!
Ghost A: Hahahaha! Terrorize!
Mayor: No, seriously. We’re not helpless. I’m a ghostbuster. I studied psychology and parapsychology under Dr. Venkman.
Ghost A: I don’t see no damn proton pack on your back.
Mayor: It’s, uh… being dry-cleaned. It’s due back today, though. Any time now.
Ghost B: Isn’t my fan cool? I have a fan. It’s super cool.
Mayor: Not just your fan, dude. That’s some wild-ass hair you got going on. I mean, I know it’s a wig, but it’s a fucking great wig.
Ghost A: Don’t get too chummy. We’re supposed to be terrorizing him, remember?
Ghost B: You’re not the boss of me.
Ghost A: Am too.
Ghost B: Are not.
Ghost A and B: Argh!
Mayor: My plan of setting the two against each other has succeeded. I’m now going to sit in the corner and remain there for the rest of the performance, moving only to shift my weight when my legs start hurting from this uncomfortably formal kneeling style.
End Act 1
The rest of the story continued in a similar vein. I assume.”
Following up my previous post, and since December festivals are getting closer, I could not help associating the madwoman of the Noh play Kanawa 鉄輪 and the Scandinavian representation of St. Lucia. Obviously the two iron crowns with candles have very different meanings – while the Japanese is part of a revenge ritual of a jealous woman, the Scandinavian candles are symbols of the return of the light after the 13th of December.
If there is something Noh teaches, and is really good at it, is to fight against expectations. What is an expectation? The logic conclusion of a process based on the probability of this occurrence to happen – this is mathematics. The possible conclusion of a process based on our hopes for this occurrence to happen – this is humanity.
In both cases, the focus of our thought is the aim of the path we are following, rather than the path itself. We struggle to keep the balance on the line we are stepping on – look down or on the sides and you only risk to fall. Hence, treading this path becomes an individual, autonomous process, excluding whatever happens around us. Reaching the end of the path is our only interest. There is a tendency to build up expectations on the target of our mission and its achievement becomes the symbol of what we are doing, but not seeing now, blinded by the light of the end of the tunnel. Humans are self-referential entities, with a tendency to consume, rather than live an experience. How to escape the projection of ourself in onto the world? How to be ‘otherwise than being’ (Levinas)?