Noh, a traditional type of theater from Japan, is one of the world’s oldest surviving performing art forms. It was designated a “Masterpiece of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity” by UNESCO in 2001, and noh has been performed without interruption since its birth more than 650 years ago.
Noh, like kabuki theater, is inspired by tales from history and literature, and is one of Japan’s most highly regarded and aesthetically refined art forms. However, noh is the older of the two, and utilizes masks in performances to depict emotions, while kabuki relies on heavy stage makeup for dramatic effect. Also known for using few props, noh performances leave much up to the imagination of the viewer, and use this form of active participation to convey an abundant world. The unique style of noh, in particular, affords spectators the chance to experience a quintessential part of Japanese culture through thoughtful portrayals of human emotions set against the backdrop of the country’s rich, seasonal phases.
Kanze Noh Theatre in memory of the 25th Grand Master of the Kanze School, Kanze Sakon was relocated to Ginza SIX in the spring of 2017. Its official name honors Kanze Sakon, in recognition of his contribution to the school and for rebuilding the noh theater twice in his lifetime following the Second World War.
Steeped in a tradition passed down since the 14th century, the theater offers noh performances as well as those of other performing arts. In collaboration with General Incorporated Association Kanze-kai, Tokyo Midtown Management Co., Ltd. has released a video in which Saburota Kanze, an up-and-coming actor of the Kanze School, as well as the heir to the 26th Grand Master of the Kanze School, Kiyokazu Kanze, guides spectators through the fascinating world of noh. The video, “Kanze Noh Theater Backstage Tour” is a part of Hibiya Festival 2021 and has been released on the organization’s HIBIYA FES CHANNEL YouTube platform.
The festival is being held online this year for the first time to reach out to more people and share the excitement of live performance during a time when in-person gatherings have been markedly limited. With this program, both the theater and festival organizers aim to provide support to entertainment industries affected by Covid-19 and help bolster the appeal of the performing arts in Japan and abroad.
The tour consists of a simple explanation about the history of noh, while Kanze takes audiences on an exclusive, behind-the-scenes tour of the theater, giving both newcomers and seasoned fans a fascinating insight. The video concludes with a must-see performance of Yashima by Saburota Kanze. The story centers on a priest from Kyoto who stops by Yashima Bay in Shikoku and is told by a local old man and a fisherman the story of a battle between the Genji and Heike clans that was fought there a long time ago. A dance takes place during the final scene of the play, when the ghost of the famed warrior Yoshitsune appears and recounts the story of the battle.
This video tour and performance is available in Japanese, English and French in an effort to give broader audiences—who do not have the chance to watch live noh performances due to the pandemic—the opportunity to experience and learn about noh with an intimate guide through its almost-700-year history. Thanks to the collaboration of the Kanze Theater and the Hibiya Festival 2021, audiences near and far are able to gaze into the makings of this historic art and marvel at beautifully carved noh masks and elaborate kimonos, as well as enjoy the moving melodies and rhythms of musical accompaniments in imaginative scenes in an easily accessible and convenient format.