Noh TriviaQuestion and Answer

Question162 Were there models for Noh masks?


One mask with a story to it is “the mask that mimics the face of the dead” – “Kawazu.” It is said that the monk Himi (aka Himi Munetada) of Jōnichiji Temple in Ecchū (currently Toyama Pref.) created this mask while sitting by a corpse. It is not known whether this is true, but in the profession of monk there were certainly many opportunities for contact with death

The plays that use Kawazu mainly depict the dead suffering hell, including “Fujito,” “Akogi” and “Utou.” Compared with “Yase-otoko,” which is used in a similar way, Kawazu has wet hair and a gloomier appearance. It is a perfect mask for Fujito, in which a drowned person appears.

Apart from Yase-otoko and Kawazu, the other masks that are said to be Himi’s works are “Kagekiyo,”“Yase-onna” and “Ryūnyo”. These are all characterised by expressions of distress and agony, with jealousy and regret. Himi appears to have been a master for the “mask of a thin person.”

While considered one of the “Jissaku” (ten masters), a generic term for ten excellent mask makers, his unique style also influenced later writers. There are many novels inspired by Himi, including “Kizoku no Kaidan” (The Stairway of the Nobles) by Takeda Taijun, and “Rin no Fu” (The Score of Phosphorus) by Sugimoto Sonoko.

Magojirō” is an important female mask passed down in the Kongō school. It is said to have been made by an actor who was active at the end of the Muromachi period, Kongō Ukyō Hisatsugu, known by his secular name Magojirō, while mourning for his wife, who died young. The mask has the elegant alias “omokage” (a remembered face).

The imperturbable face is slightly older than that of the “Ko-omote,” which represents a young woman, and its features are said to be closer to those of human faces. Magojirō may be used often in “Matsukaze” and “Izutsu,” for a beloved person who has become a ghost.

(Jul. 10 2020)

illustration : Hiroko Sakaki

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