ASCJ 2009
SUNDAY JUNE 21, 10:00 A.M.-12:00 A.M.

Session 31



Conceptions, Modes and Structures of Noh in Films, Objects, Poetry and Music

Organizer: Pia Schmitt, Waseda University
Chair: Judy Halebsky, Hosei University

Originating in the Muromachi period, Noh has an outstanding history as far as its theatrical performance, music and text. Tradition, concerning text and movement, is an essential part of Noh. However, in the past 60 years, Noh has also proved that it is a form of theatre that is able to transform and cross borders.

This panel explores various facets of past and present dealings of Japanese Noh theatre. We will consider aspects of Noh visible in literary texts, music, film, and other areas where Noh is moving out into new forms and new media, paying particular attention to expansions within the structures of Noh.

The first paper takes a look at the traditional form of Noh, investigating the role of "katami" (keepsakes) and other "fetishized" objects. The second paper examines elements of Noh in films by Akira Kurosawa. The next presentation focuses on the musical aspects of contemporary Noh play adaptations of W.B. Yeats’ At the Hawk’s Well. The last presentation deals with how two Western poets came to create texts informed by Noh and what frames of knowledge inform their understandings of Noh.

1) Pia Schmitt, Waseda University
The Magic of Objects: The Role of Gowns that Function as "Katami" in Plays by Zeami Motokiyo

In many works of noh theatre objects play an important and dramatic role as "katami" (keepsakes), in which the memory of an event in the past takes shape. From a psychoanalytic point of view, these "katami" appear to take on the qualities of "fetishes" or objects of excessive attachment. A living person's longing for a departed loved one is frequently channeled through associations with a gown.

Cultural studies scholar Hartmut Böhme defines a "fetish" as when individuals or collectives attach special meaning to a particular object not previously associated with it (2006: 17). Böhme also points out that objects in which the past crystallizes can function as a fetish for people who have lost loved ones.

Based in theories on the role of objects in human cultures, this presentation will take a closer look at the role of gowns, functioning as "katami" in noh plays by Zeami Motokiyo. How is the process of "fetishization" constructed in the texts? How is it represented on stage? What are the recurring structures of gown fetish in noh plays? By taking a closer look at plays such as Izutsu, Kashiwazaki and Tokusa, this presentation will attempt to shed light on the aforementioned questions.

2) Titanilla Mátrai, Waseda University
Intercultural Elements in Film: The Use of Noh in Kurosawa Akira’s Throne of Blood

Theatrical performances in films can be found in works such as Dogville (2003) and Manderlay (2005) by Lars von Trier, and Shakespeare’s Henry V (1944) produced in Elizabethan theatre style by Laurence Olivier. In Japanese films one can especially recognize the use of Kabuki in many cases. However, there are also several examples utilizing Noh. The most representative director who made use of elements of Noh in his films is undoubtedly Akira Kurosawa. Kurosawa used this device beginning with his third film, Sanshiro Sugata Part Two (1945) and continuing until Dreams (1990), one of his last films. In Kurosawa’s oeuvre the presence of Noh is most significant in The Men Who Tread on the Tiger’s Tail (1945/1952), Throne of Blood (1957), and Ran (1985).

Among these three films, I investigate Throne of Blood. Throne of Blood is based on Shakespeare’s Macbeth, but it also incorporates elements from Noh plays such as Kurozuka (Black Mound), Tamura, and Funa Benkei (Benkei on the Boat). In my presentation I will demonstrate how Kurosawa applied performative elements of Noh in the construction of the film (as evidenced in the appearance of the characters, their movements, behavior and manner of speech), as well as textual allusions to Noh – either quoted unchanged from the original Noh plays or translated into visual images. I hope to show how understanding Kurosawa’s use of Noh performative and textual elements as a way to "translate" Shakespeare deepens our understanding of the film.

3) Mariko Anno, Tokyo University of the Arts

Continuity of Tradition Today: The Nohkan Part in Adaptations of Yeats’ At the Hawk’s Well

The active repertoire of the five Noh schools consists of approximately 240 plays, mostly written during the Muromachi period. Since the Meiji period, shinsaku Noh (new Noh plays) have been written. Many of the English and Japanese contemporary Noh plays address the problems and situations encountered in today’s society, displaying the creativity of the artists who challenge and stretch the musical, structural, and textual limits and boundaries of traditional Noh.

This paper investigates the musical aspects of contemporary Noh plays, considering the degree of continuity in the musical tradition evidenced by the contributions of Nohkan (Noh flute) players of the Issô School to three contemporary Noh play adaptations of W.B. Yeats’ At the Hawk’s Well: (1) Yokomichi Mario’s Takahime (The Hawk Princess) (1998); (2) Yokomichi Mario’s Taka no Izumi (At the Hawk’s Well) (2004); and (3) the English Noh Production of At the Hawk’s Well (2002) by Theatre Nohgaku. This continuity is considered through analysis of the shōdan (building blocks of Noh plays), dan (scenes), and overall structure of each play.

These analyses demonstrate that the traditions of musical style and usage remain vastly influential over contemporary Noh composition and performance practice. Nohkan music in contemporary Noh theatre does not depart in any significant way from traditional forms, content, and usage. The few variations noted would seem to reflect the personalities and preferences of individual musicians and composers rather than represent an iconoclastic movement to break with past traditions.

4) Judy Halebsky, Hosei University
The Poetics of Noh in Transformation: Noh in the Poetry of Leslie Scalapino and Daphne Marlatt

Karen Brazell traces the influence of noh in poetry in Western Europe and North America through W.B. Yeats, T.S. Eliot, and Ezra Pound to argue that their work informed the movements of imagism, symbolism, and vorticism (1991:43). Another chapter in the influence of noh in international poetry is underway in what might be called "the west coast school" through the work of Northern California poet, Leslie Scalapino and Vancouver poet, Daphne Marlatt. Scalapino's poem 'Can't' is 'Night' was performed in 2004 as part of a collaboration between American dancer June Watanabe and noh master Uchida Anshin in San Francisco. Scalapino has a new noh based poem sequence that is forthcoming from Belladonna Press in New York. Marlatt's noh play The Gull was staged in Richmond, British Columbia in 2006 by the creative team of Matsui Akira and Richard Emmert. The Gull won the Uchimura prize from the International Theatre Institute and is forthcoming in a bilingual addition with Japanese translation by Yoshihara Yoshi from Talonbooks in Vancouver. This paper will examine how these poets came to create texts informed by noh and what frames of knowledge inform their understandings of noh. These new works will be analyzed in terms of their connection to concepts central to traditional noh such as allusive variation, unity of image and thematic poems.

Discussant: Susan Blakeley Klein, University of California
Discussant: Reiko Yamanaka, Hosei University