The Spirit of Noh

Noh theater, or Nohgaku (能楽) is the oldest form of theater in the world still being actively performed today. Highly regimented and minimal, it is unlike any Western form of theater. Known for its use of masks or 'nohmen',
Noh plays involve supernatural elements and Buddhist philosophies.
The Spirit of Noh is selected in National Geographic's Short Film Showcase.
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Performed since the 14th century, Nohgaku is a highly minimal and disciplined practice which very few people today can boast to fully understand. Characterised by its distinctive masks called nohmen representing spiritual, godly and demonic characters. This also one of the major distinctions from the more popular Kabuki theatre. Noh over the years became more structured, monotonous and supernatural compared to other forms of theatre. As such, it is also deemed the oldest surviving form of theatre in existence today. In 2001, Noh was named a "Masterpiece of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity" by UNESCO, with many of its few star performers recognised as Japan's "Intangible Cultural Assets". Michishige Udaka is one such person. A practitioner of Noh for over 60 years, he is a Master performer who also carves his own masks - the only person to do so today. Like many forms of traditional arts & crafts, the uptake of Noh in Japan is declining. The once insular and private world of Noh has now been brought beyond its borders and blossomed in part thanks to Mr. Udaka’s establishment of the International Noh Institute in 1986. But what of its future in modern day Japan? This film is a deep dive into the esoteric world of Noh and follows Mr. Udaka as he prepares for an upcoming performance.

Special Thanks to:
Michishige Udaka, Haruna Udaka, Tatsushige Udaka, Agnes Bun, Julien Banos

Additional images:
Hanabusa Itchō, Japanese, 1652 - 1724
'Scenes from Comic Plays' (detail),
Handscroll, one of a pair; Ink, color, and gofun on paper
Minneapolis Institute of Art, Bequest of Richard P. Gale
Photo: Minneapolis Institute of Art