ogaku, or more famously known as Noh is a classical musical drama deeply treasured in Japan. It is said to be originated back in the 8th century through the influence of Sangaku (geometrical problems and theorem) which was transmitted from China. Developed during the 14th and 15th century, it has brought great influences to numerouos performances in the Japanese culture, including the Japanese Puppet Theater and Kabuki (Japanese dancedrama.) But the most fascinating thing about this cultural heritage is that it has successfully brought to life traditional Japanese tales through acrobatics, dances, music and visual arts. Brought by Kan’ami and his son Zeami Motokito and patronized by the Ashikaga Clan, this customary performance has completely transformed the future of Japanese performances.
The Shite, Waki, chorus, musicians and stage hands in a Noh performance
In fact, this treasured tradition brought the attention of UNESCO and it now has been recognized as a masterpiece of the oral and intangible heritage of humanity. As the oldest Japanese theater form, it is no wonder that the Nogaku is being treasured and preserved. The original Nogaku performance consists of 5 Noh plays and several humorous Kyogen pieces (comic theater) and the performance goes on for the entire day. Today, however, it has been reduced to 2 Noh plays and 1 Kyogen in between them, keeping in mind the audience’s attention span. ROLES IN NOGAKU There are 4 main role categories in a Nogaku performance; shite (first human), waki (counterpart of shite) , kyogen (interlude) and hayashi (orchestra.) Traditionally, actors and musicians only rehearse together once as Sen no Rikyu says, ‘ichi-go, ichi-e’ which literally translates to one chance, one meeting. There are over 1500 professional Noh actors in Japan and most of them are men, even though there are various female roles in the play. MOOD AND STYLE There are 2 main moods and 2 main styles that is present in a Nogaku performance. Mugen No is the mood of the play that includes spirits, ghosts and supernatural world whereas Genzai No captures normal events of everyday world. In terms of styles, Geki No includes drama plays that revolves around the advancement of the
plot and the narration of the action. Furyu No, in the other hand, are dance plays that are based on singing and dancing. PERFORMANCE SPACE The stage consists of 4 main parts: the main stage, Hashi-gakari (bridgeway), Juitai-za (chorus place) and Ato-za (musicians’ place.)
An example of a Nogaku stage and seating with arrows pointing the use of a certain space. Most of the performance takes place on the main stage, as it is where the shite normally stands. It is 6m square in area and it has 4 pillars supporting the roof as seen above. The stage floor is made of hinoki wood and is fully polished. Beneath the floor are buried giant pots to enhance the deep properties of the wood floor when actors stomp heavily. As a result to this, the stage has to be elevated 3 feet above audience level. As seen above, kagami-ita, or the painting of a pine tree is present as it represents a famous pine tree in shinto (indigenous spirituality of Japan.) A stage
dedicated specially to Nogaku performances would also have a hook or loop in the ceiling to lift and drop the bell for the play Dojoji.
A Dojoji play (miscellaneous category)with a big bell attached to a hook or a loop COSTUMES Noh Shozoku, or the costumes used in Nogaku performances were originally more modest as they dress with normal clothes. When the performance was recognized in the eyes of aristocracy and military ruling classes, the attire became extravagant. From then on, a tradition was molded and the attire became an important part of the performance. Each type of clothing are richly steeped in meaning. Musicians and chorus normally would wear formal montsuki kimono (black and decorated with 5 family crests) and hakama (shirt-like garment) or kamishimo (hakama and waist coat with shoulderpads.) These symbolic costumes doesn’t only please the eye but it also expresses the characters feelings through visual arts. The costume can be broken down to 7 parts; kazura
(wig), kaburi-mono (things worn on the head such as hats and headdress), uwagi (garments wore over kimono), kitsure (short-sleeved kimono worn under the other kimono), uwagi (outer kimono), hakama (trousers) and small items such as sashes. The costumes aren’t meant to realistically represent the characters but rather represent it in a more creative way. Just by looking at the costumes, you can know a lot about the character as you can accurately recognize the gender, age, social status, occupation and personality. This can be determined by looking at the pattern, mask, collar and color of the attire. Despite having to follow some rules, at the end it is the decision of the shite to decide what costume will be worn during the performance.
Costumes worn during the Nogaku performance. Center middle: Shite, Right (red garment): Waki, Middle back: Chorus. MASKS Nomen, or Nogaku masks are a very important part of the performance and is one of the main
reasons that makes this heritage unique. There are around 60 basic Nomen and over 200 other types. Traditionally, the masks are made of paulownia and camphor but today it is made with hinki cypress and painted with natural pigments on a neutral base of glue and crunched seashell. Like the costumes, the masks also have deep meaning behind them. The masks often represents the characters’ minds, hearts and origin. The interesting thing about Nogaku is that not all the characters wear masks. The ones using masks are shite, tsure (shite’s companion), female roles and supernatural characters. That leaves waki, middle-aged men, chorus and instrumentalists without masks. The masks are usually expressionless, however female roles are an exception to this. The masks for female roles are specially designed to make slight adjustments in the head to express emotions. This is also manipulated by the lighting and angle. Other masks, however, have to convey their emotions through their body language.
This is an example of the female roles’ masks when shown from 3 different angles. The production process requires several months and the cost could reach to thousands of dollars.
There are 6 main Nogaku masks categories: 1. Okina Masks (used to portray God)
5. Female Masks
6. Vangeful Spirit Masks 2. Old Man’s Masks The side and back view of a female role mask After putting on their costumes, the actors will then go to the kagami no ma (mirror room) and attach the mask in front of the mirror. This ritual is to imply that the performer is ‘becoming’ the mask and all its emotions, traits, and soul is the character’s. A technique being used to convey emotion is to tilt the mask up or down. With terasu, meaning tilting it upwards, it produces a smile which symbolizes happiness whereas kumorasu (tilting it down) produces a frown and expresses sadness. Through this technique, the perfomer can further express their character’s emotions through the mask. The purpose of wearing a mask is to reduce the complexity to a basic human behavior, unlike movies and television series. Since a lot of the performers are male, it is also used to make the female characters played by male performers more believable. A lot more technique than we think is actually being put to use for the characters that requires masks. The mask also adds the sense of curiosity and uniquity to the audience, making the performance even more interesting.
3. Fierce Deity Masks
4. Male Masks
COMPARISON This tradition has more differences than there are similarities compared to the work we’ve done in class. First of all, the stage is very different so are the roles, costumes, music and masks. However, similarities between both are also very evident. For instance, the eye hole in Noh’s masks is also very small and it’s very hard for performers to see their surroundings. I can personally relate to that because our vision is limited, it is much more difficult to interract with our surroundings and others. Those with the still masks also have to use their body language to convey emotions, just like we have to. Lastly, improvisation is being used in Nogaku performances as they only have one chance to meet together and practice. This is also being done in class exercises, practices and even the actual performance.
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Grade 10 Masks Assignment Masks in the world: Japan’s Nogaku November 4th 2012 By Elena Lie