Tag Archives: aged

Is the Kanze Noh Theatre for sale?

Selling Noh by the pound

According to the business magazine Gendai Bijinesu (Kodansha) the Kanze Nōgakudō in Shōtō, Shibuya, one of Tokyo’s most exclusive residential areas, may be soon put up for sale. In the article reporting the news, the land on which the theatre is now built, measuring 840 tsubo (approx. 2,777 square meters) is stated to be worth over 30 billion yen (approx. 30 million US dollars). Fujisawa Shōwa, owner of  Yodobashi Camera, who lives in the neighbourhood, has been identified as a potential buyer. According to an unspecified major real estate company, the Kanze-kai (that is, the company that owns and manages most of the Kanze school property) is considering selling the theatre. Of course – I would add – selling does not mean shutting down the business, but simply relocate elsewhere while cashing what is an extremely valuable piece of land in the heart of Tokyo.

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The Kanze Noh Theatre, Shibuya, Tokyo (Google street view)

What crisis?

How to interpret the potential sale of the Kanze Nōgakudō? Could it be justified with a need to renovate the venue? Or is it yet another sign of the crisis that is tightening its grip on the Noh establishment? The post-Lehman financial shock is only an additional factor to a more specific, economic but also cultural (can we separate the two?) crisis that Noh is undergoing since the early 1990s. The Noh audience is ageing, therefore naturally reducing, a trend that might lead to its biological extinction within some 20 years, unless critical measures are taken. According to the Gendai Bijinesu article, the Kanze-kai has shown a loss amounting to 10 million yen between the 2009-2011 fiscal years. However, the manager of the Kanze Nōgakudō has explained that, after the 2011 Tōhoku earthquake, the construction of a safer building has been discussed, and that money is not really the issue. What we should be more concerned with is the ageing of the Noh audience, and the consequent need to make efforts to attract a new generation of young spectators.

This is certainly true, and it would impact on the economic condition of Noh the large majority of Noh actors, who are in need of financial support in order to continue to perform their art. Of the three great performance traditions of Japan, Noh is the only one which, after having lost its aristocratic patrons with the advent of the Meiji restoration, is struggling to survive while maintaining its economic independence, counting primarily on amateur practitioners who learn directly from professional performers (and pay directly to them). Kabuki is managed (owned?) by Shōchiku, a huge movie and theatre production company, and is supported by corporate sponsorship. Bunraku has lost the battle, and is now surviving thanks to public subsidy. Noh still lingers in a limbo between feudalism and capitalism. Meanwhile actors who can’t make ends meet sell their costumes, masks and books, while Wanya-shoten and Hinoki-shoten, publishers of Noh books, close shops in Tokyo and Kyoto. Does Noh need a new economic model in order to get out of this darkness?

Diego Pellecchia

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Call grandpa, there’s Noh on TV

This is the face of traditional theatre on the national ‘educational’ channel, NHK’s Eテレ (e-tele), broadcasting programs on traditional performing arts between 22:00 and midnight. In a roundtable on the decrease of Noh amateur population published on Nogaku Journal in 2010, critic Horigami Ken complained about how dull TV programs are today, claiming that the absence of classical arts on TV is one of the reasons why young people today are not interested in Noh.

Nippon no geino

Yes, I too would like to see more Noh on TV and, preferably, I would not like to see it introduced by this nice&tidy couple of presenters, interviewing old geezers and kind baachan dressed in sober kimono, gently bowing and speaking in softly. Noh is everything but gentle or soft. It’s not something to be nodded at from behind a glass case (be it a TV set or a museum stand). Noh is magnificent, powerful, heartbreaking, enlightening. Not for the faint of heart, I daresay. Have you seen this program? Certainly NHK, like much of the Noh establishment, don’t care much about trying to reach new audiences, and only feed the progressively aging spectatorship that started following it in the 1960s. Noh is not only for them. Give us the real thing, not this pre-digested glop, only good for retirement home entertainment.

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.

Ageing Noh

Today I went to the Kanze Nogakudo to see the last Urata Teiki Noh. Today’s programme featured the rare Morihisa,  and Hagoromo. There is a lot to say about the two performances I saw, but in this post I will talk about another aspect of today’s experience. Something that I am afraid contributed to an at least partially negative reception of the performance.

I’m not going to write an essay here, I will just copy here some thoughts that I jotted down during the play.

Today's average age of the audience: 70 years. There's all kinds of good reasons for this. Will write about them next time.
Issues resulting from the increasing age of the Noh audience:
  • Bad smell in the theatre. Most of it comes from cheap/old fashioned hair spray.
  • Huge queue at the toilet during the break.
  • Amateurs who bring their utaibon and take the Nogakudo for a Noh sing-along karaoke kind of place.
  • Grannies sucking on candies, usually taking ages to unwrap them from a very noisy plastic wrapping.
  • Bad hearing makes people shout instead of whisper.
No wonder young people don't want to go to the Noh theatre. If I took a friend today I'm sure he/she would have never wanted to come back to what seems to be a retirement house... AGE IS AN ISSUE!

This post is ironic but the matter is serious. Will expand it in a more academic fashion some other time.