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  • Heaven Has a Face, So Does Hell: The Art of the Noh Mask
  • Eric Rath
Heaven Has a Face, So Does Hell: The Art of the Noh Mask. 2 volumes. Stephen E. Marvin. Warren, CT: Floating World Editions, 2010. $300.

Chiding the laziness of Western scholars and the insularity of experts in Japan who have studied masks before, Stephen Marvin promises readers deeper knowledge of this topic (1:x-xi). His exhaustive and beautifully produced two-volume study more than succeeds in doing this, becoming the definitive reference to masks despite certain shortcomings. The eleven chapters of volume 1 provide a full overview of masks, while volume 2 presents lavish photographs and descriptions of 145 examples.

The first four chapters of volume 1 provide a context for understanding the world of masks. Chapter 1 examines the origins of masks, placing their history in reference to earlier forms of masked performance. Chapter 2 charts the evolution of masks, locating the roots of some masks in folk performing traditions and exploring the reasons for the creation of other varieties The author covers the history of theatre from its antecedents to the dispersion of great mask collections in modern times in chapter 3. Chapter 4 is on the fundamentals of performance and is restricted largely to a discussion of the plots of representative plays.

The remaining chapters in volume 1 focus on masks and are the strongest part of the work. Chapter 5 on the art of the mask describes the process of their construction and techniques used to copy esteemed masks, as well as providing an appraisal of medieval masks. Marvin's discussion of the construction of masks is especially rewarding in its detailed account of creating a mask, from the hewing of a three-hundred-year-old cypress tree to carving and painting the finished product, and his review of the debate about the authenticity of the oldest masks is fascinating.

Chapter 6, on mask form and function, provides a level of detail new to English writings on masks. The mysterious expressions of masks, how they appear to cast multiple emotions or change moods with a tilt of the actor's head, as well as the vagaries of mask eyes, mouths, and facial hair are described. Mask nomenclature, including typical descriptive terms, the derivation of mask names, and mask preferences among schools, is addressed in chapter 7.

The most extensive section in volume 1 is chapter 8, which introduces different categories of masks. Marvin expands the typical list of five types of mask to ten. The typical list includes masks of benevolent male deities (Okina), old men ( ), female, male, and demon (for the latter, Marvin prefers the term kishin to indicate that demons are not necessarily malevolent). He adds to this list Buddhist deities and vengeful ghosts (onryō), and he subdivides male masks into four varieties: young men, spirits (ryō no otoko), adolescent boys, and old warriors. This chapter presents a flood of information about these major categories and the subvarieties of masks within them, which includes descriptions of their features, representative plays that they appear in, and references to the treatises in which they are mentioned. With a few exceptions this chapter lacks the ample photographic representations found [End Page 381] in the other sections, but examples of many of these masks can be found in volume 2.

Chapter 9 presents the traditional genealogy of mask carvers, the earliest of whom are legendary or hard to historicize until the last half of the sixteenth century, when more is known about carvers. Marvin provides valuable biographies of famous carvers, complete with examples of their signatures carved, painted, or branded on the backs of their masks. Most of his focus is on premodern carvers, but a few twentieth-century artists are mentioned. As with the previous chapter, this is organized more as a reference work for readers seeking to learn particulars of a different carver rather than as a narrative. Chapter 10 provides information on the signatures and other symbols found on the back of masks, and chapter 11 gives succinct advice on...


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