Noh: Tsunemasa (経政)

Noh: 経政 (Tsunemasa)

9/14/14 (Sun), Karasumori Hachiman Shrine

This was an evening show being performed at a neighborhood shrine as part of an annual festival. I had hoped for candlelight rather than artificial lighting, especially since it’s called for in this case in the script itself, but I guess fire laws (and common sense on a wooden stage) prevailed. 

Tsunemasa was a warrior known for his skills on the biwa (Chinese lute) who was killed at the epic Ichinotani battle. This closely recalled the Noh drama about his brother, the flute-playing Atsumori. This time, the monk Gyokei has come to a shrine to offer Tsunemasa’s favorite biwa in memory of his fallen friend. When he starts to pray, a flickering shadow appears in the firelight, revealing himself to be the ghost of Tsunemasa. The ghost soon “disappears” before the monk, leaving only a voice (though remaining visible to us). He dances in recollection of happier days, but soon begins to feel ashamed at being trapped in the purgatory of fallen warriors (shura-do), where he is doomed to continue fighting eternally. He lowers the light and disappears into the darkness.

This was an enjoyable, uncomplicated piece of around one hour. I had hoped for the kind of epiphany achieved in Atsumori, but in this case the ghost simply fades away without enjoying salvation, which seemed a bit unfair for a kid unwittingly sent to war. I had also expected some biwa playing given the instrument’s prominence in the show; the ghost is supposedly playing the instrument as he dances. The performer later explained that the dance represents the sound of the instrument just as it does for thoughts and emotions. That is, the actual sound would be too real, breaking the spell. That makes good sense and made me enjoy the show even more in retrospect.

He also offered the novel interpretation that there is a strong implication of a close physical relationship between the monk and boy, as was common in those days with kids left in the care of temples and shrines (chigo). In this reading, the ghost in the story is making himself visible only to his ex-lover, who is mourning him for more reasons than the text makes evident. Interesting idea, though the show certainly works perfectly well on a normal friendship level.

By coincidence, this happens to be the show that I’m being forced to interpret at in Sendai in a couple of weeks. I’m not looking forward to explaining the homosexual implications to the audience, who are coming from Muslim Indonesia. Will have to soften the message a bit.


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