Popular Japanese apparel company Uniqlo has teamed up with Kabuki management company Shochiku to produce a series of t-shirts, trousers and accessories using Kabuki costume pattern designs as well as well as kumadori make-up impression known as oshiguma. It makes a lot of sense to me: Kabuki costumes have great designs that look very ‘cool’ to the contemporary eye. So do Noh costumes, which served as models for Kabuki costumes in the early days. I hope that the Kabuki establishment will benefit from this mutual form of promotion, but I also ask myself why Noh is not doing this. It’s a rhetorical question: regardless of the more or less awkward attempts to popularise it, Noh remains an art for the elite. Its political system is elitarian, and so is the image it projects to the public. Uniqlo is a cheap fashion brand with a ‘pop’ international image. The two brands do not seem to go together. Most Noh people will agree with this, and rejoice in their elitarianism, leaving the cheap and pop stuff to Kabuki people. However some (a minority) Noh actors, especially the young generations, might disagree. This is the generation that will still be here in 30 years, and will experience the consequences of the current conservative policy enforced by the oligarchy of elders. What is more important? Maintain the elite as it is, or try to find new ways to get more people come to the half-empty Noh theatres?
I am happy to announce that I was selected as a winner of the IFTR International Federation for Theatre Research New Scholars’ Prize 2012-2013 for my essay “Ezra Pound and the Politics of Noh Films”, which I hope to publish soon. I will receive the prize on the occasion of the IFTR annual conference in Barcelona 21-26 July 2013, which I look forward to attend.
This is one of those situations where an academic who also blogs about academic topics would like to reveal more about his work but cannot because he has to wait for the actual paper to be out there lest his stuff is illegitimately taken by some ill-intentioned guy (it happens all the time). See Travis Seifman’s thoughts on academic posting online. Anyway I am very excited about receiving the prize, and I can’t wait to publish the article!
The October issue of the Nōgaku Times features an article on Shain 『沙院』 a shinsaku-noh(new Noh play, not part of the classical canon) by actor Nagajima Tadashi (Kanze).
Shain is based on the character of Shakushain, an Ainu chifetain who led an important rebellion (Shakushain no tatakai, 1669-1672) against the Matsumae clan, the Japanese lords who occupied the Hokkaidō region at that time.
The Noh follows a rather standard structure in which a monk (waki) visiting Hokkaidō meets a local man who tells him the story of Shakushain (shite) before disappearing. In the second half of the play the shite re-enters the stage in his real form, as the spirit of Shakushain. In the interview to the Nōgaku Times, Nagajima-sensei explains how the character for the nochi-ba (second act) was built around that of the Noh Kōu (on the Chinese general Hsiang Yu). One of the highlights of the play is the ezo-nishiki fabric costume for the character of Shakushain, of which you can find pictures on Nagajima-sensei’s website.
Unfortunately not much is said about the ‘post-colonial’ resonance of the play. Obviously the Japanese invasion and subjugation of Hokkaidō has an important meaning in Japanese history, especially if seen in the perspective of Tamura, the only classical Noh play dealing with a similar theme. In Tamura the general Sakanoue no Tamuramaro (758-811) is sent by Emperor Heizei to Mt. Suzaku to contrast an Ainu invasion, whom he defeats with the help of the bodhisattva Kannon, who mercifully sends a thousand arrows on the ‘demons of the North’, killing them all. You can find a synopsis on www.the-noh.com, and perhaps also notice how they artfully avoided to mention that Tamura’s enemies were actually Ainu people.
Those interested in attending Shain can find more info on Nagajima Tadashi’s website.
This year I will be speaking at the International Federation for Theatre Research (IFTR) conference in Osaka 7-12 August 2011. IFTR is one of the biggest international theatre conferences and I am looking forward to participate for the first time, and to do it in Japan. I am particularly excited about the discussions that will develop from the encounter of Western scholars belonging to Anglo-Saxon academia and Japanese scholars, which I think are worlds apart when it comes to background and methodology. This year’s theme is ‘Tradition, Innovation, Community’ and I will be talking within a panel with Prof. David Wiles, theatre historian, my supervisor at Royal Holloway University of London, and Janne Risum from Aarhus University, Copenhagen. Our panel will focus on the inter-relation of aesthetics and ethics in intercultural context and my paper will specifically look at ethics and politics in Ezra Pound’s reception of Noh theatre. I have done quite a lot of work on Pound and for my PhD and I am really looking forward to present it to the IFTR audience. Hope to see you guys soon in Osaka!