Okina hōnō (dedication of Noh play A Venerable Old Man) on New Year's day
History Noh, is a major form of classical Japanese musical drama that has been performed since the 14th century. Many characters are masked, with men playing male and female roles. The repertories normally limited to a specific set of historical plays. A Noh performance often lasts all day and consists of five Noh plays interspersed with shorter, humorous kyōgen pieces.
While the field of Noh performance is extremely codified with an emphasis on tradition rather than innovation, some performers do compose new plays or revive historical ones that are not a part of the standard repertoire. Works blending Noh with other theatrical traditions have also been produced.
By tradition, Noh actors and musicians never rehearse for performances together. Instead, each actor, musician, and choral chanter practices his or her fundamental movements, songs, and dances independently or under the tutelage of a senior member of the school. Thus, the tempo of a given performance is not set by any single performer but established by the interactions of all the performers together. In this way, Noh exemplifies the traditional Japanese aesthetic of transience, called by Sen no Rikyu "ichi-go ichi-e".
Actors There are about 1500 professional Noh actors in Japan today, and the art form continues to thrive. Actors begin their training as young children, traditionally at the age of three. Historically, the performers were exclusively male. In the modern day, a few women (many daughters of established Noh actors) have begun to perform professionally. Many people also study Noh on an amateur basis. While the field of Noh performance is extremely codified with an emphasis on tradition rather than innovation, some performers do compose new plays or revive historical ones that are not a part of the standard repertoire. Works blending Noh with other theatrical traditions have also been produced.
Masks The masks in Noh all have names. They are made out of materials such as clay, dry lacquer, cloth, paper, and wood. Usually only the shite, the main actor, wears a mask. However, in some cases, the tsure may also wear a mask, particularly for female roles. The Noh masks portray female or nonhuman (divine, demonic, or animal) characters. There are also Noh masks to represent youngsters or old men. On the other hand, a Noh actor who wears no mask plays a role of an adult man in his twenties, thirties, or forties. The side player, the waki, wears no mask either.
Several types of masks, in particular those for female roles, are designed so that slight adjustments in the position of the head can express a number emotions such as fear or sadness due to the variance in lighting and the angle shown towards the audience. With some of the more extravagant masks for deities and monsters, however, it is not always possible to convey emotion. Usually, however, these characters are not frequently called to change emotional expression during the course of the scene, or show emotion through larger body language.
Three pictures of the same female mask showing how the expression changes with a tilting of the head. Noh mask of an old woman
Stage The traditional Noh stage consists of a pavilion whose architectural style is derived from that of the traditional kagura (god-entertainment)a stage of Shinto shrines, and is normally composed almost entirely of hinoki (Japanese cypress) wood. The four pillars are named for their orientation to the prominent actions during the course of the play: the waki-bashira in the front, right corner near the waki's standing point and sitting point; the shite-bashira in the rear, left corner, next to which the shite normally performs; the fue-bashira in the rear, right corner, closest to the flute player; and the metsuke-bashira, or "looking-pillar", so called because the shite is typically faced toward the vicinity of the pillar.
Mood 1.Mugen nō ( 夢幻能 ) usually deals with spirits, ghosts, phantasms, and supernatural worlds. Time is often depicted as passing in a non-linear fashion, and action may switch between two or more timeframes from moment to moment. 2.Genzai nō ( 現在能 ) as mentioned above, depicts normal events of the everyday world. However, when contrasted with mugen instead of with the other four categories, the term encompasses a somewhat broader range of plays.
Style 1.Geki nō ( 劇能 ) or drama plays are based around the advancement of plot and the narration of action. 2.Furyū nō ( 風流能 ) or dance plays focus rather on the aesthetic qualities of the dances and songs which are performed.
Every element of performance is strictly controlled by conventions that have been established for centuries. Rather than encouraging innovation, Noh seeks to perfect and preserve an art form. Conclusion