- Another Stage: Kanze Nobumitsu and the Late Muromachi Noh Theater by Lim Beng Choo
With most scholarship on nō theater focusing on the playwrights and theoreticians Zeami Motokiyo (1363–1443) and Konparu Zenchiku (1405–1470?), performers less than a century after these giants have not received sufficient attention. To begin to remedy this, Lim Beng Choo’s Another Stage profiles actor, musician, and playwright Kanze Kojirō Nobumitsu (1435 or 1450–1516) to understand his contributions in the latter half of the Muromachi period (1336–1573). Lim provides thoughtful readings of Nobumitsu’s plays, which are his most lasting achievements.
After a brief introduction that locates Nobumitsu within a historical overview of the development of nō theater, Lim lays out a three-part study. Part 1 provides a discussion of Nobumitsu’s life in two chapters. The first chapter is a translation of a biographical source, which the second chapter references in sketching out the highlights of Nobumitsu’s career. Part 2 follows with three chapters each devoted to a different style of Nobumitsu’s plays. Part 3 examines the “lively” and “spectacular” furyū style synonymous with Nobumitsu and other late Muromachi-period playwrights (p. xxiv). The book lacks a separate conclusion but provides five appendices that include a catalog of Nobumitsu’s plays with brief synopses of his extant works, a chronology of his life, and an explanation of the role categories in nō plays such as waki and shite.
Chapter 1 undertakes an analysis of the Kanze Kojirō Portrait Inscription (Kanze Kojirō Nobumitsu gazōsan), an intriguing source rare in the history of nō theater. Zen monk Keijō Shūrin (1429–1518) authored this lengthy dedicatory verse around 1488 for a painting of Nobumitsu that is now lost. Lim affirms that the inscription is evidence that Nobumitsu and his father, On’ami (1398–1467), for whom a similar inscription survives, had reached a level of status and wealth that would allow their visages to be painted and their contributions valorized in writing. Contrary to the terse and rather formulaic verses for On’ami’s portrait, Nobumitsu’s inscription is detailed and includes a history of nō theatre that traces the art back to sacred Buddhist and [End Page 631] Shinto prototypes. Lim compares these origin stories to similar accounts in Zeami’s writings to conclude that nō had become part of the cultural world of the elite in Nobumitsu’s time. Lim does not consider the audience for Nobumitsu’s portrait inscription, the reasons for its creation, or the work’s historical reception. For the latter, I had to refer to her article on which the chapter was based to learn the specifics about the “various historical texts” in which the inscription appears (p. 3). According to this article, the earliest extant copy is by scholar Hayashi Razan (1583–1657), who apparently worked from another copy or the original belonging to the Kanze family (Lim 2000: 569). Razan, a prominent Neo-Confucian intellectual, demonstrated a keen interest in history, including the genealogy of performing arts; he also penned a short treatise on knife ceremonies (shikibōchō) of professional chefs. Razan’s duplication of the document suggests its importance for the Kanze lineage in the late seventeenth century. One wonders why Nobumitsu commissioned this inscription (and portrait) and how and when he meant it to be displayed. Elsewhere Lim explains away Nobumitsu’s lack of interest in creating secret artistic writings like his predecessor Zeami, stating that by Nobumitsu’s time the “function of secret treatises—to transmit secret strategies to outdo other competitors—was no longer important” (p. 44). But secret writings clearly had other purposes beyond what Lim allows because Nobumitsu wrote two, and after his lifetime an increasingly wide variety of nō performers from musicians to kyōgen actors authored secret texts. One reason for this heightened activity in creating secret writings was that such treatises within nō and other arts such as cooking, the tea ceremony, and flower arrangement symbolized the...