New Angles: daily inspiration


Posted in art by menno1976 on October 22, 2009

A couple of years ago I went to a Noh theatre performance and I still remember it very clearly. The music, the costumes, the masks and of course the performance by the actors were very impressive. Luckily I had read what the play was about, because many of the stylized gestures in Noh have a deeper, symbolical meaning.

There are about 80 different masks that are essential for most of the noh plays. But there are well over 200 different masks The typical noh mask is smaller than the face. They are usually shallow in construction and carved from hinoki wood. The masks are carved in such a manner that the expression of the face changes as the shadow and light change with the slightest movement of the head. This feature is important in noh theater since the mask must reflect the mood of the character at that moment in time. But the most important characteristic displayed in every noh mask is its otherworldly quality. It is that quality that cannot be duplicated by an actor’s own face or through make-up. Only the main character of the play, called the shite, and his companions wear masks, peripheral characters do not. The shite also did not wear a mask when portraying livings persons. Noh masks are variations of gods, demons, spirits, and young middle aged and old men and women. There are many plays in which the main character changes into another mask which is supposed to represent the character’s true nature. It is the shite who chooses which mask to use for the performance. Once the decision is made, the rest of the costuming is based on that mask. Choosing the mask is a very important process since it dictates the intrepretation the shite places in the character. The mask supersedes the actor’s individuality or any intrepretation he personally would put into the performance.
via Yoshino Antiques

Ko-omote (小面)
Portrays a young woman (purity, beauty, virginity)

Uba (姥)
An incarnation of a deity in the form of an old woman.

Kumasaka (熊坂)
A famous thief.
(vigilance, leadership, but also foolishness)

Yoroboshi (弱法師)
An innocent blind young man who’s been exiled. (sorrow, innocence, suffering)

Hige-beshimi (鬚癋見)
An old goblin.

Hannya (般若)
A female demonic entity. (jealousy, grudge, sorrow and grief of women)

photos via


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