Kyoto’s Kashu-juku bring full cast noh theater to PSU

For the first time in nearly two decades, full-cast professional noh theater will be performed on a Portland stage.

For the first time in nearly two decades, full-cast professional noh theater will be performed on a Portland stage. Kashu-juku Noh will bring the masked lyrical dance and music drama from their home in Japan’s ancient capital of Kyoto to PSU’s Lincoln Performance Hall on March 16 at 7 p.m.

It will be one of five appearances Kashu-juku make on their limited engagement tour of the U.S., and only the second time a full-cast professional noh company has performed in Portland. While patrons in New York City will pay $65 to see Kashu-juku, the PSU Center for Japanese Studies brings the same show to students for only $14.

Kashu-juku will perform “Lady Aoi,” in which a serial-murdering female ghost seeks to dispatch her rival by means of spirit possession. The intensity of this iconic noh drama will be contrasted with the farcical kyogen play, “Tied to a Pole,” in which two servants struggle to outwit their master after he’s tied them up. Their lofty goal is to get rip-roaring drunk, and in the process serve as the traditional comic relief

during the intermission of noh drama.

Professor Laurence Kominz teaches classes on Japanese language, literature and drama at PSU. The World Languages and Literature faculty member knows firsthand the experience of discovering the world of noh as a college student.

“I became interested in noh in my junior year studying abroad in Kyoto,” Professor Kominz said. “To be honest, the exoticism appealed to me most at first. For me, the plays were like a time machine. It was a more intense and real way of experiencing medieval Japan. The intensity of the music and the singing, and the starkness of the movements can fill your soul with the passion and the suffering of the characters in the play,” he said.

Kominz saw nearly 20 noh and kyogen plays during his year studying abroad, and got to know some of the actors personally. After graduating college, he returned to Kyoto, where he completed a one-year apprenticeship in Japanese theater. What has become a lifelong passion for Professor Kominz, the published author of a book on Japanese theater, began with a play not unlike “Lady Aoi.”

“The first play I saw was another play about demonic female spirit possession,” he said. “In this play, however, the spirit of Lady Rokujo torments her rival in love, Lady Aoi, who is the wife of Prince Genji. Lady Aoi is pregnant at the time, and is particularly vulnerable. The noh represents this attack by having a beautiful court lady transform into a hideous demon,” he said.

The conflict in “Lady Aoi” is between a Buddhist exorcist and the spirit of a living woman, whose angry spirit seeks to torment her hated rival while she sleeps. Though it is far from a modern tale, Kominz believes that “Lady Aoi” offers familiar terrors for those who pay attention to modern Japanese horror cinema.

“In my ‘Gods, Ghosts and Monsters’ class, which I taught last summer, I had my students compare the ghost in this play to the ghost in ‘Ringu,'” he said. “Ringu,” Hideo Nakata’s 1998 horror film in which a female demon kills viewers of a cursed videotape, is the most frightening Japanese film, according to Tokyo statistics corporation Oricon.

Kashu-juku’s performance is a rare opportunity for those interested in Japan’s theatrical, historical and cultural traditions, and comes with a ticket price sure to attract curious horror fans as well. It has taken the world of professional full-cast noh and kyogen nearly 20 years to return since its first visit to Portland, and there’s no telling when it will be back. ?