Suzuki Tadashi on Noh theatre

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On Saturday 13rd July I attended Suzuki Tadashi‘s presentation 「能」に期待する (Expectations on Noh) at Otsuki Nogakudo in Osaka. The event is part of the series 能の魅力を探る, ‘investigating the charm of Noh’, organised on the occasion of the 650th anniversary of Zeami Motokiyo’s birth, and presented by Noh scholar Amano Fumio.

I was excited to be able to attend one of his rare forays into the public – recently Suzuki does not seem to leave his house in the mountains very often. In the 1970s Suzuki has done quite a lot of work with Noh and Kyogen actors, especially Kanze Hisao, Kanze Hideo and Nomura Mansaku, who belong to a generation of Noh professionals excelling in their art and open to experimenting in other fields. Suzuki’s famous ‘method’, now widely spread across the globe, has been allegedly influenced by Noh training. Carruthers/Yasunari’s book is a standard if you want more reference on his work.

The talk was followed by the dokugin solo chant from the Noh Ashibikiyama (足引山), performed Otsuki Bunzo, and the shimai dance excerpt from Tamamizu (玉水), performed by Kanze Tetsunojo, Hisao’s son. Both plays are fukkatsu, ‘restored’ plays that were not staged for a long time until recently.

Now a few words on Suzuki’s talk. I must admit I was not impressed. Most of it sounded like the grumblings of an elderly man against the malaise of modern civilization. His main point was how we humans have lost the ability to use their ‘animal energy’ (動物性エネルギー) because we use electricity, gas, oil in order to operate machines that work in ourplace. Complaining about how today’s youth have lost the ability to communicate, as they are only able to look at their smartphones (are FB and Twitter not a way to communicate?), Suzuki continued by praising Noh because it only uses ‘human energy’.

Of course Suzuki is, generally speaking, right about saying that Noh is one of the few performance traditions that still is largely man-powered, with the exception of the halogen lights illuminating the stage. Having said that, listening to Suzuki speaking was not particularly interesting and I strongly doubt it helped to show the ‘charm’ of Noh. Which ‘charm’ anyway? I am fascinated by Tanizaki’s aesthetic of shadows but I also think that such reactionary or nostalgic attitude is not going to help Noh move forward. Rejecting all that belongs to today’s generations, including Internet, smartphones, computers, machines, etc. equals to rejecting those whose lives are deeply influenced by all this. I am not an advocate of digitalisation of Noh, but I am concerned with what is going to happen to Noh in some 20 years, when a good percentage of its contemporary supporters are likely to be dead. We need to find a third way.

After the performance Kanze Tetsunojo, Otsuki Bunzo, Amano Fumio, Suzuki Tadashi (with an average age of 67.25) were on stage for a panel on Noh. I know this mights sounds harsh and I hope you will not think that I have no respect for experience and age, but, as I put myself in the shoes of one who meets Noh for the first time at a conference with a famous contemporary theatre director, I cannot help feeling that Noh is something that more and more risks to be a property of the old age. Fandom is built through admiration but also through identification. To what extent can young people in the early twenties identify with elderly men and women who represent the old-smelling (furukusai) world of their grandpas?

We must act, and I wonder what I can do… I think it is important to promote the work of young actors more than it is currently done by the Noh society.

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