'Noh' Or Accomplishment: A Study of the Classical Stage of Japan

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9781565544406: 'Noh' Or Accomplishment: A Study of the Classical Stage of Japan

A detailed examination and explanation of the first great Japanese theatrical form, which often intimidates the uninitiated.

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From the Inside Flap:

"The Noh is unquestionably one of the great arts in the world, and it is quite possibly one of the most recondite. . . .
In the Noh we find an art built upon the god-dance, or upon some local legend of spiritual apparition, or, later, on gestes of war and feats of history; an art of splendid posture, of dancing and chanting, and of acting that is not mimetic. . . .
If one has the habit of reading plays and imagining their setting, it will not be difficult to imagine the Noh stage--different as it is from our own. . . . It is a symbolic stage, a drama of masks. . . . It is a stage where every subsidiary art is bent precisely upon holding the faintest shade of a difference; where the poet may even be silent while the gestures consecrated by four centuries of usage show meaning."
--Ezra Pound, from the Introduction

To help you decipher the exact meaning of the Noh, the coauthors explain both the formality of the ritualistic plays as well as their underlying, unifying concept: yugen.

Roughly translated as "gentle gracefulness," yugen is embodied in an elaborate dance that ends each Noh performance.

In Noh, the arrangement of the pieces is called Ban-gumi. A Shugen, or congratulatory piece, must come first. Then, in order, follow the Shura, or battle-piece; Kazura, or Onna-mono, pieces about women; Oni-No, or the Noh of spirits; and a piece that has some bearing on the moral duties of man, Jin, Gi, Rei, Chi, Shin--that is, Compassion, Righteousness, Politeness, Wisdom, and Faithfulness. Finally, another Shugen is performed.

These elements are all discussed here in depth, with examples of each.

Ernest Fenollosa's commentary on Noh is especially noteworthy. Indeed, "Professor Fenollosa knew more of the subject than any one who has yet written in our tongue," coauthor Ezra Pound declared.

Fenollosa went to Japan as a professor of economics and became imperial commissioner of arts. Along the way, he raised Noh to its rightful place in Japanese society.

Although a brilliant author and poet in his own right, Ezra Pound humbly acknowledged that this book was the product of Fenollosa's vision and planning. Pound acted as its literary executor and translator, a role that did allow him "the pleasure of arranging beauty into the words."

From the Back Cover:

"'We work in pure spirit,' said Umewaka Minoru, through whose efforts the Noh survived the revolution of 1868, and the fall of the Tokugawa."
--Ezra Pound, from the Introduction

The spirit is at the essence of Noh, the first great Japanese theatrical form that developed in the late fourteenth century. Largely responsible for Noh's development were Kannami Kiyotsugu and Zeami Motokiyo, father and son. Kannami combined elements of other Japanese theater with Zen Buddhism to create the form, while Zeami perfected it. Zeami, the "Shakespeare of Noh," wrote more than 100 of the approximately 240 plays that constitute the still-active repertoire.

Noh reflects its spiritual progeny by conveying the belief that beauty lies in suggestion, simplicity, subtlety, and restraint.

Here coauthors Ernest Fenollosa and Ezra Pound present the history, explain the nuances, and even provide samples of Noh plays. They do so with passion, reverence, and an uncanny depth of perception--all of which proves that they, like all Noh performers, did indeed "work in pure spirit."

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