Noh Ghost Story (2004)

Noh is a classical Japanese performance form which combines elements of dance, drama, music and poetry into one highly aesthetic stage art. Indeed, it is the oldest surviving form of Japanese theater. These plays are very austere performances, in which wooden masks play an important role. The tone of the performances is grave, in keeping with the tragic character of the represented situations. A central principle of the Noh drama is “yugen” (“mystery”, “depth”, “darkness”, “beauty”, “elegance”), the intimation of a concealed truth, what Zeami Motokiyo defines as “the art of the flower of mystery”. It is telling that Noh plays often involve ghosts or ghostly characters and emphasize, through symbolism and stylized gestures, the formal, abstract, and spiritual aspects of human action and emotion and their consequences. It is not uncommon for one character to play multiple roles.

In this instance, a dancer plays the roles of a samurai, his young wife, and a treacherous old man. The young couple court and marry, and live in bliss, until the libelous old man character comes to whisper untrue rumors of his wife’s faithlessness into the samurai’s ear. The samurai, brokenhearted at this dishonor to their marraige, still loves his wife enough to allow her to commit jigai. (Both the practices of jigai – the ritual suicide of women by the cutting of the jugular vein with a short sword or dagger – and seppuku – the ritual stomach-cutting suicide practiced by Japanese men – were committed to preserve one’s honor, even after death. Those who did not belong to the samurai caste were never ordered or expected to commit seppuku and samurai women could only commit the act with permission.) The samurai’s wife is trapped in a sort of limbo, reliving her recollection of the events that led to her untimely