The Noh play ‘Adachigahara’ is a masterpiece of the genre. It manages to be simultaneously scary, frightening and haunting. What do I mean by that?
At a first read, ‘Adachigahara’ is merely scary. Three men on a journey find themselves isolated and alone at night in the bleak moors of Adachi. They ask an old woman for lodgings, only to find she is in fact a demon. In the resulting supernatural battle, good triumphs over evil. It is the stuff of any late night horror flick. “Whatever you do, don’t look behind that door!”
But the Noh play ‘Adachigahara’ is more than just scary, it is also frightening. One reason is the nohkan, the flute used in all Noh performances. The nohkan is specially constructed to distort when overblown, giving it an eerie quality unique to Noh. The otherworldly kakegoe, the cries of the drummers, in addition to their important role as markers for the dancers, musicians and chorus members, are an essential part of the Noh esthetic. The masks too, with their bulging eyes and liminal expressions, are truly frightening, emphasized by the strong, sudden cutting movements of the actor.
But what makes ‘Adachigahara’ a masterpiece is that, in addition to being scary, even frightening, it is a tragic, haunting play. Due in large part to the influence of Noh, there are moments of sympathy both for and by the demon, giving the play a pathos that can at times be wrenching.
The play begins, as most Noh plays do, with a journey......
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