The secrets of Noh masks by Michishige Udaka ; photography by Shuichi Yamagata

Kodansha International, 2010

Kodansha International, 2010

This exquisite book by Noh actor and mask-maker, Michishige Udaka, contains photographs by Shuichi Yamagata of 32 beautiful Noh masks made by the author and used in performances by him. Japanese Noh theatre is over 600 years old, and beneath its deceptively simple exterior it contains a multitude of codified performance practices that make it one of the most exacting and challenging performing arts in the world; and quite beautiful to watch as well once you get into its stately rhythms. Kabuki, Noh’s more energetic and popular cousin, is also remarkably interesting, and Kanjincho is one of Japanese theatre’s most enduring plays, and its lead character Benkei one of the country’s most beloved historical and fictional characters.

Matsumoto Koshiro VII as Benkei by Shunsen Natori

Matsumoto Koshiro VII as Benkei by Shunsen Natori

The Night banquet : a Chinese scroll through time by De-nin D. Lee

University of Washington Press, 2010

University of Washington Press, 2010

You would think that a tenth century Chinese painted scroll depicting a “decadent party” being hosted by a government official of the day would be interesting enough, both visually and narratively, but this intriguing book by art historian De-nin Lee adds yet another layer of intrigue. By the 13th century an extraordinary tradition had emerged in China whereby the viewers of art works would lodge their responses to it by stamping it with personal seals, inscriptions, poems, and other individual markings, and the author here embarks on a history of this lovely scroll as told through these various “accretions”!  Fascinating stuff, but am I wrong in being thankful that this practice didn’t catch on in the West?

Kissing the mask : beauty, understatement, and femininity in Japanese Noh theater : with some thoughts on muses (especially Helga Testorf), transgender women, kabuki goddesses, porn queens, poets, housewives, makeup artists, geishas, valkyries, and Venus figures by William T. Vollmann

Ecco, 2010

Ecco, 2010

This is a strangely meandering, reflective, obsessive and poetic discourse on the nature of feminine beauty based (perhaps oddly?) on the representation of it through the all-male Noh theatre and its beautiful costumes and masks. From porn stars to transvestite bars to fashion magazines and beyond, the author takes us on an almost Melville-like journey across his chosen landscape; do you remember that extraordinary discourse on whiteness in Moby Dick? Read on!

A critical history and filmography of Toho’s Godzilla series by David Kalat

McFarland & Co., 2010

McFarland & Co., 2010

At the noisier end of Japanese culture comes the great, and seemingly indestructible, Godzilla, here celebrated in a remarkably serious survey of the over 30 (and counting!) films so far made; that’s including spin-off characters such as Mothra and Ghidrah, naturally. If you’ve ever dreamt of stomping all over Tokyo, or any other large city, then this is the book for you; the only drawback, no pictures of the big guy!

 

Photo by Mizonoumi, Yokosuga, Japan (Wikimedia Commons)

Photo by Mizonoumi: Yokosuka, Japan (Wikimedia Commons)

 

This article has 1 comment

  1. Great post Dermot! 🙂

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