In a recent interview for Tokyo Shimbun, Hōshō Kazufusa, iemoto of the Hōshō school, has commented on the current coronavirus crisis, saying that (I paraphrase) many people think that the tension perceived in a nō performance cannot be transmitted through videos, but there are things such as the breathing of the performers or the sweat dripping from their chins that film techniques can capture in order to convey the “drama” of nō performance.
I very much agree with this. The problem with YouTube videos of nō is that many of them are produced without the necessary attention to how the performances are filmed. Of course, there are reasons for this, including organization, timing, and, most importantly, budget. But there could also be a lack of awareness of the shortcomings and potentials of the video medium.
I think that there could be a future for nō videos if the quality improves. Filmed performances of kabuki, but also of the National Theatre or The Globe may serve as inspiration. The current crisis will eventually (hopefully) end, but the Internet is going to stay. I hope nō will be able to make good use of it.
In the last few days many public gatherings and events in Japan have been cancelled. Performing arts will suffer greatly from this situation – what to do when you cannot go to the theatre? Kyōgen unit Soja (Shigeyama family) has announced the live broadcast “Let’s meet on YouTube!” March 1st at 14:00 (Japan time). I look forward to seeing how this is going to work out!
A beautiful video digest of the 2018 Heian Jingū Takigi Noh, the open-air, torch-lit noh performance taking place at Heian Shrine every year on June 1-2. Udaka Michishige is featured performing Hashi Benkei from min. 1:15. Check it out!
Here is a clip from the 4th Tatsushige no Kai showing actors Udaka Norishige and Yamada Isumi performing the shimai dance excerpt from the noh Tsuchigumo. In the play, a monstrous spider disguised as a monk throws spider webs at the warrior Raikō. The spider webs are made of thin strips of Japanese paper with small lead weights attached to their extremities.
… says this poster I noticed in the lobby of the Dentogeino Kaikan in Otsu (Shiga pref.) next to Miidera. A woman closes her eyes and remembers an instant from the Noh Izutsu (The Stone-Well). The poster very delicately warns the audience that it is prohibited to take pictures or film in the Noh theatre. I think this this a very well thought campaign, not only because of its gentleness but also because of the depth of its message.
“Emotion” lives on in the memories written on your heart
Leaving aside those who might have an economic or other interest in recording a performance (be it Noh or something else) I am always impressed by the number of people who feel the urge of taking out a camera and filming or taking pictures of whatever work of art they are watching. I was at the British Museum last year and I remember a group of Italian tourists who took pictures of every single piece in the Japanese section – I can assure you, they were not art researchers. Here in Japan, where taking pictures is a stereotypical feature of the Japanese prototype, photographing anything at hand is the norm. And now we have smartphones. Going to an open air-performance is difficult even for me (I’m 180cm tall) because you have to watch the stage through a thick forest of raised arms holding coloured mobiles with Kitty straps and such. The habit of taking pictures of the stage does not only apply to open-air performances, where it is often allowed, but also to indoor performances, where it is clearly prohibited. You hear digital shutters shut, see flashes flash. It is terribly disturbing for the audience, let alone for the performers on stage.
But there’s more beyond the merely physical nuisance. Whenever I see some ojisan (old geezer) with a checkered shirt, a fishing vest and a baseball hat taking a picture of the Noh stage I wonder what they will do with it. Will they watch it before sleeping? Will they print it out at theconvenience store? Will they send it to their pals? I don’t know. Or maybe I know: they won’t do anything with it. They just take the picture for the sake of taking it. They satisfy an idiotic compulsiveness. Because no one can convince me that after watching a Noh, and filming it, you go home and watch it again.
There is simply no point in filming what you are actually experiencing live and I won’t spend words explaining the obvious (that performance is an act perceived through a number of senses, and that retains a quality of ‘liveness’ that cannot be reproduced). I think it is enough to think of what you actually do with what you have recorded. Think about it.
Back from Japan and heavily jet-lagged as usual, I was wandering the many Noh-related blog pages when I bumped into 天河伝説殺人事件 (Tenkawa Densetsu Satsujin Jiken) a 1991 thriller by Ichikawa Kon, the director of The Burmese Harp, Tokyo Olympiad and many other legendary films. 天河伝説殺人事件 looks like a standard 80s old-school detective story with the surprising twist of being centred upon homicides related to Noh theatre. I haven’t seen the movie myself but I am about to make an order to Amazon.jp where they seem to have DVD copies of it. It just looks very cool – the retro-sound score, the ossan hat of the protagonist, the terrible オーバー acting technique of the actors… and on top of it, it’s Ichikawa! The review of the All Movie Guide has been published on the New York Times here. Googling a bit I found the trailer uploaded on YouTube.
I have already posted something on unconventional/ironic ways of using Noh theatre, but I think this goes beyond what I have encountered so far. I am unsure I understand the process that led to the creation of the video below; I don’t even know whether the Noh utai amateur pizza-ossan was a victim of this or if the pizza delivery-utai that you hear is actually his own creation. If so, well… hats off.
Hey wait a second… now that I think of it.. I should be the one doing this!!
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…