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  • Frank Hoff (1932–2013)
  • Cody Poulton

Frank Hoff taught Japanese theatre at the University of Toronto from 1973 to 1996. I took both undergraduate and graduate courses from him, and I remain his student. He whetted my own interest in Japanese theatre, and I discovered that we shared a similar background in what used to be called Classics (now called Greek and Roman studies at my own university). Born in Los Angeles on 31 January 1932, Hoff graduated summa cum laude from the University of Southern Califor¬nia in 1954 and made his first trip to Japan, from 1954 to 1956, as a lieutenant in the US Navy. He received an AM in classical philology from Harvard University in 1958, but as a result of his experiences in Japan switched to comparative literature, and he received his PhD, also from Harvard, in 1966. Frank taught at Princeton University (1965–1968), Sophia University (1968–1972), and Tokyo Women’s College (1972–1973) before joining the Department of East Asian Studies at the University of Toronto. In Tokyo, he became a good friend of David Goodman’s. With Willi Flindt, Frank published “The Life Structure of Nō,” an introduction to Yokomichi Mario’s analysis of theatre “as a performance event, and not as a genre of literature,” in David’s seminal magazine Concerned Theatre Japan (Hoff and Flindt 1973: 212). Frank’s work anticipated the “performative turn” taken by scholars like Karen Brazell and Monica Bethe, but like Goodman he was equally interested in the ways in which Japanese theatre and culture of the 1960s were overturning Western ideological hegemonies and our own assumptions of what theatre was or should be. My own understanding of drama [End Page 606] had been largely text-based, but Frank’s lectures—which ranged from scripts for plays to the popular songs of Japan’s middle ages, newspaper clippings of police raids on the Victory Burlesque House in Toronto, rock concerts, Lou Reed, and Mick Jagger—were a heady and intoxicating brew. Frank also introduced me to the work of Richard Schechner, now considered the “father” of performance studies. Both Goodman and Schechner were featured in this journal’s “Founders of the Field” series last fall, so it is fitting that we honor Frank Hoff here, too, for his contribution to our understanding of a wide range of Japanese performing arts, from folk song to shamanistic dance, from classical theatre to the avant-garde (see Hoff 1976; 1977a; 1977b; 1981; 1982a; 1982b; 1992; in addition to other works discussed below).

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Frank Hoff in 1988.

(Photo: Courtesy of Christopher Yohmei Blasdel)

A real intellectual trendsetter, Hoff was erudite, but an exceptionally good listener, sincerely interested in what he could learn from others; his tastes were discriminating but catholic. Having lived through much of the cultural ferment of the Japanese 1960s, he had both a keen understanding of the contemporary zeitgeist and a deep knowledge of the roots of Japanese culture. From his ongoing studies under Honda Yasuji at Waseda University in Tokyo, first as a Fulbright scholar (1961–1964), Frank learned the extent to which folk performance (minzoku geinō) has influenced the course of Japanese culture since earliest times. He drew a clear distinction between geinō and engeki, the latter being a more recent and restrictive term, closer to the Western notion of theatre. Writing in his introduction to a translation [End Page 607] of Honda’s essay on Yamabushi kagura and bangaku (both folk forms of ritual dance unique to Akita and Yamagata prefectures), Hoff states that “Honda’s scholarship has laid the groundwork for what I feel is a shift in theatrical values” (Hoff and Honda 1974: 192). Inspired by Honda’s research, Frank’s interest in ethnology paralleled the work of American scholars like Victor Turner and Richard Schechner. Yet the work of other Japanese theatre scholars like Omote Akira, Gunji Masakatsu, and Dōmoto Masaki, as well as practitioners like the actor Kanze Hisao, with whom he became friends in 1972 during seminars on Japanese theatre sponsored by Eugenio Barba’s Odin Teatret in Denmark and at the Biennale in Venice, had an equally...


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pp. 606-611
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