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Japenese Theater and Music. Jill Hodder. Noh and Kabuki. There are two primary types of Japanese music for theater: Noh and Kabuki. Both are a distinctive form with different musical conventions. Noh. Noh drama was developed in the fifteenth century during the age of warrior control.

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noh and kabuki
Noh and Kabuki
  • There are two primary types of Japanese music for theater: Noh and Kabuki.
  • Both are a distinctive form with different musical conventions.
  • Noh drama was developed in the fifteenth century during the age of warrior control.
  • Noh, literally meaning “an accomplishment” consists of dances, dialogue/songs by the main characters, and also music from a chorus, or ji
  • These plays are performed with little props and scenery.
  • The actors wear masks and elaborate costumes.
  • Noh play’s are influenced by Buddhist spirituality and are taken from history, legend and magic.
  • The plays are traditionally performed in sets of five; a play each for a god, a warrior, a woman, and demon followed by a contemporary or other miscellaneous play.
hayashi of noh
Hayashi of Noh
  • The instruments that are used to accompany the singing are referred to as the hayashi.
  • The Hayashi consists of a nokan (flute), an o-tsuzumi (type of drum held on the hip), a ko-tsuzumi ( a shoulder drum) and a taiko (stick drum)
noh drama
Noh Drama

During the entire Noh performance, the musicians of the hayashi kneel on stage, while their musical actions are choreographed as part of the drama alongside the words and gestures of the actors.

The movement of the actors are slow and diliberate

  • Noh is distinguished from other forms of drama by its solemnity.
  • Even the happier moments are performed with seriousness and gravity that makes them sound ritualistic.
  • http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Klww4AerPgw&feature=related

The origins of Noh go back to Central Asian dance and mime forms.

  • One type is the sangaku which combined music, dancing and sometimes even juggling. It was brought into Japan from Korea and China in the early 8th century.
  • By tradition, Noh actors and musicians only rehearse together once, a few days before the actual performance.
  • Each actor, musician, and chorus member practices his or her fundamental movements, songs, and dances independently, under the guidance of a senior member of the school.
  • Thus, the mood of a given performance is not set by any single performer but established by the interactions of all the performers together.
  • In this way, Noh could be seen as demonstrating the medieval Japanese aesthetics of transience, called by Sen no Rikyu "one chance, one meeting".
  • Kabuki was first performed in Kyoto and it was a different kind of theater than Noh. It includes more lively song and dance.
  • Kabuki is a highly stylized Japanese dance-drama.
  • Unlike Noh plays, Kabuki is known for being animated, lively and energetic.
  • Kabuki theater emerged in the seventeenth century under the influence of merchant culture.
  • The first Kabuki play’s were short dramatic dances, performed by women, with song and percussion, that celebrated the exploits of heroes, especially the samurai.

However, there were scandals concerning the relations between noblemen and the actresses that led to this form of theater to be only performed by men, just like Noh.

Unlike the Noh drama, which looked back into the glory days of the middle ages, Kabuki pays attention on the present.

  • Kabuki play’s are composed of certain varying elements that help it become so colorful and glamorous.


-Musical elements

-Dramatic content



-Theatre Design

-Actor/Audience Relationship

  • The play’s are about society in a certain period, historical events, moral conflicts, love relationships, etc.
  • They use dramatic dialogue and dance.
  • Drums, flutes, shamisen (stringed instrument), and chanting accompany the talking and dancing
kabuki play performed in japan
Kabuki play performed in Japan



kabuki masks make up
Kabuki “masks” (Make-up)
  • The use of the colors in Kabuki masks are symbolic. It gives a clue as to the gender, age or status of each character and they also give a hint on the temper and personality of the character.
kabuki masks
Kabuki “Masks”
  • Different shades of white are used to indicate age, rank, and gender.
  • Eyes and mouth are painted in red and black lines.
  • Facial features are painted differently for male and female characters.
  • Supernatural heroes and criminals, who appear often in Kabuki plays, get a special style of makeup called kumadori.
  • The Kumadori Kabuki make up is even more dramatic, with lines and shapes in different colors representing different qualities.
  • The most common used colors in Kabuki Theater are:
  • Dark red which represents anger, passion, or brutality.
  • Dark blue which represents melancholy or hopelessness.
  • Pink represents youth or optimism.
  • Light blue or green represents peacefulness.
  • Purple symbolizes nobility.
  • Brown stands for selfishness.
  • Black symbolizes fear.

There are about one hundred different styles of Kabuki masks.

  • The make-up is considered such an important part of the performance that a common souvenir is a silk handkerchief that the actors press to their face to make a print of their makeup.
  • Kabuki face-prints become valued souvenirs of the Kabuki theater right after the show.
discussion questions
Discussion Questions
  • 1.)In what ways were Noh and Kabuki similar? Different?
  • 2.) What do you think influenced Noh drama?
  • 3.)Why do you think Noh actors wore masks and the Kabuki actors wore make-up?