The flower as a metaphor in Japanese Theatre

Zeami was the original practitioner of Japanese Noh theatre and wrote a classic book on dramatic theory called Kadensho. He uses images of nature as a constant metaphor, for example hana, or the flower. Kenneth Yasuda, in his book Masterworks of The Noh Theatre claims that ‘This flower is both an aesthetic principle and the soul of the actor or the character or the play, and it is, beyond that, a spiritual quest. Every element of the play, every gesture, must be devoted to the flower.’ Thus we can clearly see the weight of importance given to this one symbol, but why is he so interested in using it as a metaphor, in the context of Noh Theatre?

The title of his book Kadensho can be roughly translated as “Floral Message: How Does the Wind Look?”. Zeami is using the metaphor of a flower to imply that one must possess sophisticated or ‘flowery’ skills to achieve anything in Noh Theatre. Zeami saw the flower as a sophisticated and complicated thing. This is true (see below). Zeami felt that learning theatrical skills is sophisticated and complex; just like flowers.

Zeami also sees the flower as a metaphor for viewing a performance. The flower sheds its petals and goes through many different stages in what it looks like, starting from a bud, to disappearing completely, and this is a visible process. Similarly, in front of an audience we see a theatrical event before hand as if it didn’t exist, it then bursts into life on the stage before once more disappearing. The flower is important to Zeami as he feels that this allows us to truly understand what the performance is.

Then we come to the concept of Yugen which he defines as ‘a profound, mysterious sense of the beauty of the universe […] and the sad beauty of human suffering’. This can be simply related to the flower as a metaphor, the flower is so visually enticing when alive, yet Zeami believed that when a flower begins to die the process is all the more beautiful. Zeami saw human suffering as an alluring act. Noh Theatre portrays human life as it is — assuming that pain is a process all must undergo — some believe that human suffering in its own way is beautiful.

Zeami has been known to compare the flower with the idea of omoskiroki or in English, ‘fascination’. Zeami sees the flower as something to be in awe of. In relation to its metaphor within Noh Theatre, we see his encouragement for the audience to be fascinated by the performance, thus he weighs importance on the concept in this case in order to amaze the spectator.

Another key word is mezurashiki which means ‘novelty’ implying that the flower can be something new and exciting. When this metaphor is replicated on stage — through interaction actors have with each other and the audience — they see that there is now a certain thrill in experiencing this, just like the joy one finds in viewing a flower. So the metaphor is important in this context because it excites the audience, just like one might feel towards nature.

We can see that this points to another theory Zeami has about the similarity between the way one cultivates flowers and the way the performer seeks to harvest a relationship with his or her audience. Zeami wants to reinforce this link as actor/spectator relationships are central to understanding Theatre, especially Noh Theatre.

Finding beauty in nature is something unique to the human soul. No matter who the person is, there is a certainty that any person from any background will find the flower beautiful. In the same way Zeami seeks to reinforce this concept. If the Theatre is like the flower, it can be loved and appreciated by all.

Finally Zeami reminds the reader of ‘the beauty of the flower of youth, which passes with time.’ This is an important metaphor to him as it reminds his audience of the fragility and fleeting nature of life. Many would argue that this is the most accurate and profound part of Zeami’s thinking, though not all see it as a positive concept, as mankind is left without hope as to what happens after his decease. Christianity was not to reach Japan until 1549,  but Zeami’s sentiments are echoed in the following bible verse,

All men are like grass, and all their glory is like the flowers of the field; the grass withers and the flowers fall, but the word of the Lord stands forever.

In theatre as well as in normal life, Zeami held a view in mind that more modern practitioners should ponder. He knew that his petals would soon fall and perish. However Zeami’s flower metaphor shouldn’t necessarily discourage us, all is not swallowed up into the earth, the roots remain and buds appear once more. If looked at from the right angle, there is hope for theatre, and there is hope for humanity.

Two Minute Film Analysis – ‘Chocolat’

The first two minutes of the film Chocolat (2000) are highly revealing as to the concept of what film academic S. Brent Plate describes in his book Religion and Film (2008) as two ‘contrasting spaces’ which essentially represent two ‘contrasting worlds.’ During this introductory segment the viewer is able to become accustomed to (through a number of cinematic lingual elements) a central strand in the film’s narrative; the way in which regimented religious structure and pleasure driven business can become two conflicting sectors in society.

The first thing heard in the film is piano playing musical notes on a higher register; Rachel Portman’s score suggests a tranquillity and the viewer may feel enticed; yet the fact that it is played in a minor key suggests that something is foreboding, perhaps this calmness and peace will soon disappear. This is relevant as the order of the town is destroyed when the new chocolate shop appears.

The first titles that appear are basic in their format; this simplicity matches the feel of the town we will later visit. The town is a place which on the surface of things seems devoid of modern complications that perhaps the church feels it is able to keep in order. Beyond this simplicity, the white and black colours suggest that their actions may be viewed as one of two things; right or wrong, which contrasts the complexities of the confectionery seller with her questionable morality.

Beyond the titles, the first things filmed are what look like clouds, which the camera glides through. The viewer may assume that we are now descending through the clouds from somewhere high up in the sky; are we being told that God is watching?  This could be true when seen in relation to the church and it’s aims. However, when the camera moves beyond these apparent clouds, we see that we are not descending from the sky, rather moving horizontally through what looks like mist. This illusion could well imply that the supposed divine intentions of the town’s religious leaders are in no way inflicted by a higher power, rather by human will.

The long shot of the entire town reveals a number of things; firstly the size of the town; it is a small place where presumably not many people live, which suggests that any changes to daily life will be noticed by all of the town’s inhabitants and that any sort of control; be it political, criminal, commercial or religious, won’t take much to create a stir.

Secondly this long shot establishes the position of the town; it is high up on a hill and in the middle of the countryside. This could well mean that the town is difficult to reach and maybe is a place that is untainted by the proverbial ‘big dark world’ around it. This sets the film up as the shop owner moves into the town and is a modern and fresh addition to a town which is steeped in traditional values.

Thirdly this long shot reveals the church as the tallest and most central landmark of the town. The viewers eyes are immediately drawn to it, which serves the purpose of it being the institution that’s existence is threatened. It is at the centre of the town and the centre of the lives of the town’s citizens.

Two sound effects are heard when the music stops; birds singing and church bells ringing. The birds once again allude to the town’s apparent tranquillity but also could be read to symbolically represent new life and new beginnings; something which the town is about to experience. Things are about to change and become transformed.

The church bells are a familiar sound to even the most pagan of viewers; most people know that they are rung in order to call people to church, or at least to draw attention to it. These bells however are not tuneful, but are somewhat monotonous and off-key; which could well refer to the fact that the weekly routine of going to church is not a joy to these people, these bells are not joyous or inviting, rather they are boring and dreary. The viewer when hearing this will perhaps view see that this place does not achieve the things that a good church should; contrastly it is a place of boredom and weekly duty.

We are now shown a straight on shot of Comte Reynaud (Alfred Molina), this shot suggests that he is someone who is not necessarily of any threat; but the straightness insures that he is definitely in control. As people pass him and enter the church, this notion is confirmed when he signals to a man to remove his hat, almost like a school teacher. This is not a man who lets anything go unnoticed, especially rebellion; something that Vianne (Juliette Binoche) has plenty of.

The costume choice of black, his removed hat and the facial hair on his upper lip (moustache) all suggest that Comte is a man of conservative persuasion. This prepares the viewer to see him in juxtaposition to Vianne who is presented as progressive and daring.

The church is framed from a lower view-point suggesting its domineering nature. This church is not a place that is open to sinners who can find solace in it’s forgiving nature; rather it is a place which gives it’s members no freedom or joy; something which the chocolate shop can happily offer (especially in the month of lent).

A good point on the fact that this is a wide-angle shot is made by Plate;

A significant early shot is taken from the opening of what will become the chocolate shop, and the wide-angle camera is forced to point high to take in the height of the church towering above it.

The fact that this shot is taken from where the chocolate shop is established implies that these two places are in head to head conflict which is definitely seen throughout the film in the fact that both places stand for such different values.

This opening sequence of filmic images all combine to portray the film’s core narrative line; two very different worlds colliding. Those who manage to watch the film all the way to the end see that the two world’s eventually settle their differences and that Vianne undergoes an earth shattering change of her very own. This film does not necessarily serve to highlight a negativity towards the Christian church as a whole; rather it’s message discourages regimented and freedom infringment in religion and in politics. In the same way, the film is not necessarily encouraging chocolate binges or revolutionary retail, rather it would be better to read it as an acknowledgement of the beauty of freedom and enjoyment (namely the enjoyment of Chocolate).

Video: The Muppets do Bohemian Rhapsody

It’s been doing the rounds on Twitter, but if you haven’t seen it yet…

Video: ‘Pigeon Impossible’ (Animated Short)

Bare in mind, this took them five years to make.

It’s got nothing on Pixar but nevertheless this is pretty brilliant. (There’s a quote for their marketing campaign).

Karaagadzhlar: The Invisible Village

Reports are coming in that the small village of ‘Karaagadzhlar’ in the Aghjabadi Rayon of Azerbaijan. Has become the first clustered human settlement to become invisible.

The area indicated in red is thought to be the village.

Experts are sceptical as to the truth of this claim, however Professor Ratfig Bial of the Eland Precept said in a statement today that the possibility of active camouflage was highly plausible:

A group of camouflage technologies which allowed an object to blend into its surroundings by use of panels or coatings capable of altering their appearance, color, luminance and reflective properties has been developed. However this is thought to have been stolen from a top-secret location at approximately 5 am on the morning of July 2nd 1982. The ingredients to achieve active camouflage are all there and they have the capacity to provide perfect concealment from visual detection.

It is thought that they are the perpetrators of the theft of the US army’s cloaking device which they had previously used as an advanced stealth technology that causes immediate invisibility.

An interpretation as to what technique may have been used to conceal the village.

Any attempt to try and find out whether these claims are true have been thwarted as all the surrounding towns and villages have been put on high security alert from their individual law enforcement authorities, which in Azerbaijan have total control over who or what goes out and in.

By now, not one Azerbaijani website mentions the village under this name, making it difficult for Police in the area to gain any ground in finding those responsible for this. A private investigation is underway.