Sunday, January 30, 2011


I will be forever grateful to my in-laws, not just for allowing me to marry their daughter, but also for allowing me into their home and sharing with me what is most beautiful about Japanese culture, including Japanese food, Japanese baths, music, art, architecture, and (especially) noh, the traditional masked dance drama of Japan. Noh began to take over my life. I married into a family of licensed noh performers, wrote a monthly column about traditional performing arts for the Japan Times newspaper, edited two theatre journals, and worked at the National Noh Theatre. I took lessons in noh music, movement and chant, and began reading all the noh scripts I could lay my hands on.

Rest assured I am not under the delusion that I am Mifune Toshiro. But when reading the play scripts of I find it easy to relate to the characters. Because most of these plays were written in the 14th and 15th centuries, it is surprising I should sympathize so completely with the resentments, regrets, and frustrations of samurai warriors or their disturbed spirits. The play ‘Atsumori’, for example, features a monk who is a conscientious objector (though after the fact) to the horrors of war. The play is simultaneously reassuring and haunting in its focus on the interconnectedness of all things.

Royall Tyler’s translation of the play ‘Atsumori’, included in the Penguin Classics edition ‘Japanese No Dramas,’ is excellent. ‘Atsumori’ is also number five in the ‘Noh Performance Guide.’ Monica Bethe and Richard Emmert provide an annotated translation, with the original Japanese text, an informative essay about the play in context, descriptions of the costumes, music and choreography, etc. A compact but in-depth guide.

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