- Like Clouds or Mists: Studies and Translations of Nō Plays of the Genpei War ed. by Elizabeth Oyler and Michael Watson
This comprehensive and delightful volume performs several useful tasks and provides an array of plays, some never before translated into English, for study. Beginning at a workshop in 2005 at Washington University in St. Louis to explore the relationship between the Heike Monogatari and nō, the company of scholars gathered both there and for the volume had two key goals: to produce a number of new translations suitable for the college classroom and to "make the plays meaningful through cultural and historic contextualization for generalists and specialists alike" (p. xiii). The volume succeeds in achieving both goals, providing new translations of sixteen nō plays, thirteen readable scholarly essays, and a pair of appendices that lists the nō plays associated with the Heike Monogatari (first in the order of episodes from the narrative and then alphabetically). The volume as a whole also proceeds chronologically according to the Heike narrative, which allows one to use this book alongside Heike, providing for parallel text and dramatization. Oyler and Watson have gathered major scholars and emerging voices in the field of nō studies for a remarkable volume that belongs in the library and on your shelf.
The Genpei War (1180–1185) marked a radical transition in Japanese history from classical to medieval; it not only replaced one governing family with another, but marked the rise of the warrior class and the introduction of new cultural forms (including the nō). As Oyler observes in her introduction, Heike Monogatari began as Heike Biwa, an oral performance of the history of the war. After outlining both the war and its representation in the written narrative, Oyler notes the volume examines how the individual plays develop the cultural memory of the war, how the participants are framed and remembered, and what the plays do with secondary figures such as Giō and Shunkan.
What follows is a series of alternating essays which provide hermeneutic frames to view the plays and then translations of the plays themselves, following the chronology outlined in the Heike. Robert Strippoli examines how Zeami dramatized the story of Giō, a shirabyōshi (performer) who was also the consort of the Taira ruler Kiyomori, [End Page 514] arguing that Zeami relies upon the audience's knowledge of the story of Giō from the Heike in order to present a variant narrative from Giō's point of view. The strength of the volume is that Giō, translated and introduced by Susan Matisoff is the next entry in the volume. Undergraduates, graduates, scholars, and Japanese culture aficionados need not hunt down the play or have previously read it to weigh Stippoli's arguments. Translations of Hotoe no hara and Rō-Giō (other plays about Giō) and an essay by Michael Watson on how playwrights continue to innovate on the story of Giō in a variety of plays also fill out the narrative and dramaturgical exploration of this figure; Watson's translation of Rō-Giō is one of the standouts of the volume.
Watson's essay and a few that follow deal with Bāngai nō (extracanonical, no longer performed by the current nō schools), notably Oyler again on The Battle of Tonamiyama. This section is then followed by plays on Kiso and the Lady Aoi. Mae Smethurst provides accessible and interesting translations of Sanemori and Genzai Sanemori following an essay by Akiko Takeuchi on how nō plays vary from the original oral narrative in the Heike Biwa. Again, plays and essays form a conversation in which the whole often exceeds the sum of the parts. Tangentially, I would also like to note that the plays contain just the right amount of explanatory documentation and notation. The danger is occasional repetition between essays and within translation documentation.
Numerous essays like Takeuchi's return repeatedly to both Heike and nō's origins in medieval oral performance. R...