Noh: Mochizuki (望月)

Noh: 望月 (Mochizuki)

11/20/16 (Sun), Tokyo

Mochizuki belongs to a class of Noh works that actors aren’t allowed to do until they are deemed ready by their elders. As such, the lead’s performance was a big honor for him. In a lecture on the show a week earlier, he noted that the story was basically scratched out some centuries ago to give young performers a chance to do the popular lion dance from an even-higher ranking show called Shakkyo. Here it’s presented as a show within a show, so technically doesn’t violate the hierarchy keeping the unworthy actors from the lions, a very Japanese compromise — though the fact that this show is now itself a ranked show is ironic. The story, as thin as it was, was Kabuki-like in detail, including characters with clear motivation and a good setup for the dances. It’s actually based on the Soga revenge story that became a Kabuki staple centuries later. The widow and son of a murdered lord come upon an inn, which is run coincidentally by a retainer of the lord, who has disguised himself as an innkeeper as he plots his revenge. They are overjoyed to reunite. Then, whaddya know, in comes the murderer himself, Mochizuki, asking to stay for the night. The son wants to kill him right away, but the innkeeper/retainer holds him back since Mochizuki will be on his guard. He disguises the wife as a blind woman, and she and the son perform a dance for Mochizuki while the retainer plies him with sake. The retainer then himself performs a lion dance. As Mochizuki loses himself in dance and drink, the retainer attacks, and allows the boy to thrust the sword in for the kill.

Unlike most Noh plays I’ve seen, which are more mood than story, this had a logical progression and unusually straightforward dialogue. The innkeeper’s startled reaction when Mochizuki’s retainer accidentally reveals his master’s identity, the boy’s impetuous lunge when he learns this is his father’s murderer, the revenge itself (Mochizuki is represented by a hat, making the action more abstract) – all were vividly presented. It’s like the Traviata of Noh, a perfect introduction to the art for novice audiences, who generally prefer a story in order to make sense of it all. A friend in from Paris, who was seeing Noh for the first time, absolutely loved it. It’s curious that the show was named after the villain rather than the hero. I wonder what that’s supposed to signify.

There were some tweaks to the dialogue from the standard script, and the show came in shorter than expected at a bit over one hour. It moved very quickly and felt even shorter. My teacher gave an intense performance as the innkeeper, and his six-year-old daughter did very well as the revenge-hungry son. A delightful show.

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