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Book Review: Japanese Plays – Classic Noh, Kyogen And Kabuki Works

Nothing reflects the beauty of life as much as Japanese theatre!

Japanese PlaysThe original Introduction gives a fairly detailed explanation of Noh, Kyōgen and Kabuki though there isn’t much in the way of explanations of each of the plays’ individual origins, historical context, or development, either in the Introduction or in the rest of the book at the beginning of each play, the intention perhaps to preserve the book in its original form. It would however perhaps have been helpful to provide some sort of reference material in say a selective bibliography, even if only for the most important plays.

Although this isn’t provided in the book’s current form research on the Internet would make it relatively easy to cross reference the plays on line to find more information even if the Internet is something that wasn’t available when the book was originally published in 1934. For example a delightful synopsis is available for one of the Kabuki plays ‘The Cherry Shower’ (‘Sakura Shigure’) by Takayasu Gekko in the online publication of ‘Through the Torii’ by Yone Noguchi.


The Noh play Tadanori

In translation the plays themselves are, inevitably, unable to impart the inevitable puns, or sharé, that are such an intrinsic part of the dialogue of Japanese plays and which are so beloved by the Japanese themselves; a point made in the Introduction. However, that said, the translated dialogue flows smoothly making the plays easy to understand. This is something which is extremely helpful given that the language used in most plays in their original form is likely to be historically antiquated Japanese that can be difficult to understand even for native Japanese speakers, hence the simultaneous translation devices much in evidence for Japanese audiences at Kabuki performances.

For readers without at least some familiarity with the history of Japan it may be difficult to grasp the historical context of the Noh plays. A grasp of what domestic life was like for the Japanese in the olden days would certainly help to understand the humour of the Kyōgen plays which whilst not comedy as one might understand it in a Western context certainly, and to use a phrase which illustrates the difference in the use of language in a cultural context, ‘cock a snook’ at the social mores of the day.


The Noh play Dojoji

Some illustrations are included in the main part of the book and the translations of many of the Noh and Kyōgen plays, and none of the four Kabuki plays are available in translation anywhere else. In conclusion this book was conceivably intended for academics or non-Japanese aficionado of these types of Japanese drama. A companion perhaps for these particular plays when watched in performance or a good reference point for the production of such plays in English, something which seems to be quite popular in the United States.


Author: A.L. Sadler – Paul S. Atkins, Ph.D., Foreword

Publisher: Tuttle Publishing
ISBN: 9784805310731
Format: Paperback
Date Published: 3/10/2010
Illustrations: 13 b&w illus
Number of Pages: 320

Reviewer Profile:

Trevor Skingle was born and lives in London where he works in the field of Humanitarian Disaster Relief. He is a Japanophile and his hobbies are Kabuki, painting and drawing and learning Japanese.

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