Noh TriviaQuestion and Answer

Question48 Is it true that performers wear two masks one over another?


In a play called "Daie", masks are used in a unique way to heighten the dramatic effect. In a highlight scene in Part Two, the leading actor wears two masks together and then takes off the upper one for a quick change. The actor is playing the role of a crow-billed goblin. In the scene, the goblin preaches in the disguise of Buddha in answer to a priest's prayer. Then, Taishakuten (aka Indra, one of the twelve important gods of Buddhism, who presides over wars and the weather) is angered by his deed and punishes the goblin.

As well as the masks, the actor also wears two sets of clothes to perform the quick change from Buddha to the goblin. The clothes are heavy and wearing two masks makes him almost blind. In these conditions, he has to act vigorously and transform himself instantly.

The masks used in "Daie" are specially made to be worn together in this piece. However, in "Genzai Shichimen", a rare piece performed only by the Kanze and Kongō schools, an actor wears normal masks one over another. In this play, the actor playing the part of a serpent transforms himself into a goddess, so he removes a hannya (demon) mask to reveal one of (noble woman). "Dōjōji" is another famous example of the plays that feature a quick change. In this play an alternative mask is prepared in the big bell and the leading actor changes masks inside it.

(Dec 12, 2008)

illustration : Hiroko Sakaki

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