Noh is a Japanese musical drama involving 4-5 characters that lasts for 30-120 minutes. The actors, typically male, never rehearse as a group before the performance, resulting in a very fluid type of theater. The main prop used is a fan, carried by all characters, although other small hand props are also seen from time to time. One of the most famous productions is the Ryutopia 2007 Hamlet, directed by Yoshihiro Kurita.

There are 4 main characters in Noh:

  1. The Shite is the main character, generally the only character to wear a mask.
  2. The Waki is the antagonist to the Shite.
  3. The Kyogen performs between the acts of the Noh.
  4. The Hayishi plays 4 instruments, the transverse flute, hip drum, shoulder drum, and stick drum, as accompaniment for the Noh.

There are 5 main moods of Noh:

  1. The Kami mono (or waki no) tells the mythic story of a shrine or praises a particular spirit, featuring the shite as a human in the first act and a deity in the second.
  2. The Shura mono (or ashura no) is a warrior play with the shite as a ghost in the first act and a warrior re-enacting his death in the second.
  3. The Katsura mono (or onna mono) depicts the shite as a female role, featuring refined song and dance.
  4. The Kiri no (or ono mono) features the shite as a monster, goblin, or demon, featuring bright colors and fast-paced, tense finales.
  5. There are a number of miscellaneous plays that don’t fit into a category, with themes including madness and vengeful ghosts.

There are many different ways to categorize Noh performances. Here is another:

  1. genzai no (realistic)
  2. mugen no (fantasy)

Sources Cited:

“Duel scene with puppets”, Hamlet, 2007, Ryutopia Noh-theatre Shakespeare, dir. Yoshihiro Kurita
“Desdemona’s spirit in final dance”, Othello, 2005, Ku Na’uka Theatre Company, dir. Satoshi Miyagi