Noh, in which a mere handful of performers employ a range of intricately understated movements and gestures to weave myriad tales on a compact stage, must be one of the world's simplest forms of theater.
This simplicity, with only a very limited number of stage props and sets, means that masks have played a sustaining and decisive role in noh since its emergence over six centuries ago. noh masks, with their unique and nuanced fusion of real and imaginary, may be carved from wood to fixed designs, but the subtle movements of a talented, well-trained actor render them infinitely expressive.
In today's world where specialization is the norm, the masks worn by most noh practitioners are either old masks passed down over generations within a particular school of acting, or the work of specialist craftsmen. Only one noh master-actor continues to make masks while still teaching and performing.
Michishige Udaka is a "shite-kata" (lead actor and producer) with a career spanning almost half a century. Making a noh mask demands profound insight into the relevant role, combined with an original interpretation, while on stage the mask must embody the actor's intentions perfectly. To fullfill these two requirements simultaneously, and add an extra dimension to his performances, Udaka makes his own masks.
"The Secrets of Noh Masks" presents 32 masks, a representative sample of the more than two hundred produced to date by the author. Every one has passed the ultimate test-use in actual performances-and may still be seen on stage today. Those who know little of this ancient dramatic form might assume noh masks to be lacking in expression, but nothing could be further from the truth. A perusal of these pages reveals a realm of flesh-and-blood humanity as subtle and striking in the 21st century as it was over 600 years ago.© Japan Today