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Asian Theatre Journal 20.1 (2003) 111-112

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Video Reviews

Izutsu. Produced by Kyoto Branch, Noh Actors Association, and Kyoto Noh Association. Kyoto, 2000. 40 minutes. $159
This Is Noh. Produced by Kyoto Branch, Noh Actors Association, and Kyoto Noh Association. Kyoto, 2000. 40 minutes. $159. Both videos available from Insight Media, N.Y. <>

Jonah Salz, the well-known Kyoto-based exponent of no and kyogen, was one of the prime forces behind the recent video documentaries on kyogen: This Is Kyogen and Busu. Salz is deeply involved as well in two new documentaries: This Is Noh and Izutsu. The latter, featuring actors of the Kyoto branch of the Noh Actors Association and the Kyoto Noh Association, is a straightforward taping of the eponymous no play provided with both Japanese and English subtitles. (The excellent translation is Karen Brazell's.) There are a few voiceover segments in which Salz introduces the main actor (shite) and the "sideman" (waki) and explains the interlude (ai) segment (which is cut), but otherwise his presence is nonintrusive. As a record of the play—albeit in an edited version—this is a fine teaching tool that can be appreciated as a record of the play in performance.

I was even more impressed with the second video, This Is Noh. There are several similar no documentaries available on video, but this one—despite a few problems—ranks very near the top. Using the same acting pool as in Izutsu, the tape is a more or less standard introduction to no theatre. It is narrated by Judith Clancy, a good choice as her delivery is more professional than Salz's, and she is given a considerable amount of narrative to speak. [End Page 111]

The video attempts to bring the viewer into the world of no by creating a frame in which we are shown the training procedures experienced by a sixteen-year-old no actor, Kawamura Kazuaki. Presumably we are going to see the no through his eyes, but this approach is never truly fulfilled. Even though we go back to him and observe him in interesting training sequences, his presence is not fully integrated into the main structure of the presentation. That structure, however, is quite comprehensive and manages to squeeze a lot of material into the confines of a relatively brief tape. Although some of the material will be familiar to followers of no (the diagram of a no stage, for example), much will be fresh. Other material will prove convenient for instructional purposes because so much of it is clearly presented in an engaging sequence of scenes. When the narrator introduces the five no play categories, for example, we get to see pieces from each category—enough in each instance to make clear how each category differs from the others. Also novel is the extended sequence showing the different types of conventional movement (kata) used in the construction of a no performance.

Most of what one would expect from a survey is present: the performer categories (shite, waki, chorus, musicians, and kyogen kata—but no tsure, it should be noted); the masks; and the stage (but nothing on the props or skeletal scenic units). In the final portion, as we watch a sequence of no moments, the narrator covers a host of topics from the aesthetic concept of yugen to no's nature as a collaborative musical form to its historical development to the subjectivity of audience and actor interpretation of the plays. I appreciate the desire to provide as much information as possible, but there is a danger of perceptual overload; the first-time viewer must assimilate the striking visual images being shown while simultaneously focusing on the aesthetic and historical narrative. Perhaps the visuals in this portion should have been more closely tied to the voiceover. Nevertheless, This Is Noh will make a valuable contribution to those seeking a solid documentary overview of no for introductory classes. Its value will be increased considerably if viewed in conjunction with the relatively complete performance of a no play...