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Lecture 1

THAR 201 Lecture Notes - Lecture 1: Noh, Kabuki, Shamisen

Theatre Arts
Course Code
THAR 201
Greenwald Michael

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Performing Arts and Theater in Japan
Noh- integrates song, dance, and masked theater
Bunraku- puppet theater
Kabuki- emphasizes dance and music
theater emerged when Japan was agriculturally dominant, always had festivals and dances to pray for
good harvests, celebrated with rounds of song and dance when there was a good harvest
actors and dances perfect the form of Japanese theater
nature is a strong element in Japanese theater, conveys transient nature of human life
Noh is the oldest form of Japanese theater
600 years ago
old pine trees are regarded as spiritual places
Noh stage constructed w/ 4 panels and a roof
nothing is allowed to separate audience from stage, actors enter from long bridge path
music is chanters and 4 instruments
referred to as the art of walking, minimized expression of the energy the actor hides behind the mask
thick costume creates a profile that minimizes the physical presence of actor
masks portray expression, so does movement, implies spirit
refined over the course of several centuries
56 generations of Noh theater, all 10,000 students of Noh theater are part of artistic family
old woman tells hermits not to look inside closet, one of them does and he finds dead corpses, the old
woman is actually a spirit, the goodness of the hermits forces her to leave and vanish into the night
dates back to the 17th century
each puppet is moved by 3 people, puppets made from bamboo and gourd and other things
legs and arms attached with strings
movements modified in order to be lifelike
least experienced member gets feet, other member gets the left hand, master puppeteer get head and
right hand, takes 10 years to master
singers tell the story and recites the lines of characters, samisen is played
performers sing from their stomachs, supports stomach with a weight-laden sash
clear expression of narrative is very important, clear pronunciation is very important
Sawaichi, in order to support household wife Osato works part time, Sawaichi lost eyesight due to
chickenpox and doesn’t like it when wife leaves the house so he berates her constantly, Osato actually
loves him dearly but Sawaichi fears that there is another man that Osato loves, Osato says that she
loves him dearly, overcome their misunderstanding and go to pray to the Goddess of Mercy, Sawaichi
feels sad that he doubted the love of his wife, Sawaichi thinks that his wife would be better off w/o him
so he sends his wife home on an errand and commits suicide by jumping off a cliff, Osato hurries back
and discovers Sawaichi’s cane and knows what happens and starts to grieve loudly, Osato also flings
herself into the ravine, Goddess of Mercy brings them back to life for their faith and restores Sawaichi’s
vision so he can see Osato for the first time
flamboyant costumes, makeup, acrobatics, emotional arousal, appeals to common people
causes tears and laughter of audience
passageway that runs through audience, draws audience into the drama
Scarlet makeup identifies hero and indigo makeup identifies villain
strike dramatic poses with enthusiastic shouts and loud music
male actors specialize in female roles, government prohibition wouldn’t allow women to perform on
stage so man had to perfect woman performance skills
man captivated by music of drum played by beautiful woman, man is actually a fox who changed to
human form, drum is made by the skin of mother and father so the man can hear the voices of his
parents, man’s true form is revealed and he is driven to grief because his parents are dead, fox keeps
popping out of trap doors, fox wants the drum and he eventually gets the drum and clutches it and flies
lunch can be enjoyed at one’s seat during the intermission
kabuki made political statements through fairy tales, due to strong government regulations, Kabuki
reached the height of prominence
dynamic kabuki stage has lots of mechanical devices to raise actors, all devices operated manually
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