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Japanese Studies Spotlight: "Noh as Intermedia": An Interactive Exploration of the World of Noh Theatre

by Paula Curtis on 2023-10-18T10:24:00-04:00 | 0 Comments

The NCC is collaborating with institutions and scholars to release a monthly series on our blog entitled Japanese Studies Spotlight. These features showcase exciting online collections available to researchers and students in Japanese Studies, introducing the archive or project, describing their contents, and demonstrating how they can be usefully engaged in research or in the classroom. If you are interested in submitting something to the series, please contact Paula R. Curtis, NCC’s Digital Media Manager, at

Jarosław Kapuściński, Associate Professor, Stanford University

"Noh as Intermedia" is a digital platform that delves deeply into Noh theater, providing a rich, multimodal, and interactive experience. The project is a collaboration between Jarosław Kapuściński and François Rose of Stanford University and Takanori Fujita from Kyoto City University of Arts. Launched in 2020, the website came together in collaboration with the Kongō School of Noh in Kyoto and Stanford Library's Center for Interdisciplinary Digital Research (CIDR). With help from over 80 artists and experts, the site serves as a hub for understanding, appreciating, researching, and teaching about Noh.

Figure 1. Screencap of the “Noh as Intermedia” Home Page.

Noh as an intermedia art form integrates sung dramatic text, instrumental music, dance, stage movement, costumes, and masks in unique and sophisticated ways. Centuries ago, Zeami, a key figure in Noh Theater, emphasized the importance of interweaving text, visuals, and music into the medieval dramatic arts. As he once articulated in his treatise Fushikaden: "...words should hold interest; the melody should be attractive...When all these elements come together at once, the entire audience is enchanted.”1

However, the nuanced intermedia essence of Noh has largely been overlooked. Traditional Noh pedagogy primarily emphasizes oral transmission, with a focus on repetition rather than analytical discussion. Conventional Noh scholarship often remains siloed, specializing in individual layers of expression such as literature, masks, or music. Additionally, the predominantly print-based nature of this scholarship lacks the flexibility of multimedia illustration and annotation. It's evident that Noh's intricate intermedia nature is an area ripe for further exploration, a gap that "Noh as Intermedia," having the interactive possibilities of a digital format, seeks to address.

Figure 2. Screencap of Play-Level Viewer

Features of "Noh as Intermedia"

Full Plays:

The website offers video documentation of two full-length Noh plays; Hashitomi and Kokaji, allowing users to experience performances in a more immersive way. The recordings represent two contrasting categories of Women and Demon plays. The viewers can follow the text and its English translation through optional captions.

Annotated Clips:

Users can access around 450 annotated video clips, cataloguing stage movement (kata), vocal techniques, musical patterns of different instruments as well as standard formal sections.


Multidimensional Analysis
Formal Analysis:

The site breaks down the time-based structure of Noh, from individual drum strokes and movement gestures, through patterns, sections, acts, to full plays.

Textural Examination:

At all tiers, the platform delves analytically into the interwoven interactions between text, music, and movement.

Figure 3. Screencap of Subsection-Level Page with Interactive Score and Intermedia Form Map


Interactive Map & Score
Map of the Intermedia Form:

Each play is accompanied by an interactive map illustrating its intermedia sections (Fig. 2, detail right). These sections are visualized as blocks, with their height signifying the cumulative impact of all involved media elements. Together they show the ebb and flow of the intermedia form over the course of a play.

Interactive Score:

As users engage with a play, they can simultaneously access a dynamic score that refreshes in real time (Fig. 3). This score amalgamates text, movement, and music, offering a holistic perspective of the performance.


In-depth Educational Resources
Noh Elements:

The site provides detailed information on Noh's many components, spanning from individual elements to its overarching architecture.

Customizable Indexes: Users can browse through organized lists and catalogs of sound and movement patterns to better understand Noh's flow and recurring motifs (Fig. 4).

Figure 4. Screencap of Movement (Kata) Catalog
Unique Comparative Perspectives

A powerful feature of the platform is its use of side-by-side comparisons of materials (Fig. 5). Recognizing that Noh encompasses recurring modules or patterns across different plays, this comparison tool aids users in discerning variations and similarities of expressive inflections in diverse theatrical contexts.

Figure 5. Screencap from Movement Comparison
Attention to Musical Elements

While many traditional Noh resources tend to relegate musical elements to the background, "Noh as Intermedia" gives it special attention, providing detailed information about its elements, structures and role in Noh.

Figure 6. Screencap of Music Page


User-Centric Design
Interactive Viewing:

Users can click links to update the video to a specific section being discussed in the written analysis or within the sung text.

Multidimensional Linking:
Points in time are linked down to more elemental explanations and up to larger analytical views.

Advanced Filtering and Organization:

For more granulated details, such as dance patterns, the platform provides intuitive filters. Users can hone in on specific groups of patterns, categorized by criteria like form, function, or the body parts involved.

Intermedia Findings

The site sheds light on the idiomatic intermedia qualities of Noh. It highlights such aspects like the intricate weaving of yin and yang, and the extremely flexible understanding of time, space, and identity.


Concluding Thoughts

The "Noh as Intermedia" project is continually evolving to offer more plays, depth and accessibility. In the immediate future, we are enhancing the site by introducing optional kana subtitles for the full play recordings. This addition aims to serve Japanese and international readers acquainted with the original text, facilitating a richer engagement with the material. Further expanding our set of plays, next year we anticipate recording Takasago by Zeami himself, a pinnacle piece from the first category of God plays. With this inclusion, our goal is set on recording and analyzing two more plays from the remaining Deity and Miscellaneous categories.

Additionally, our team is planning efforts into expanding the Intermedia section with topics centered around the concept of "Ma” that will explore the profound significance of silence and stillness in Noh. This will be accompanied by the development of interactive materials for Japanese school children allowing them to discover and actively learn the unique pacing in Noh .

Feedback is invaluable to us. We invite researchers, educators, artists, and viewers to share their insights about the site's advantages and areas for future development or improvement. For readers keen on further dissemination and integration, it's worth noting that we've crafted a specific piece of code that allows other Noh or theater-centric websites to embed pop-up windows, showcasing selected video excerpts from "Noh as Intermedia" and ensuring due credit is provided for copyright.

To conclude, the "Noh as Intermedia" project is not just an online repository; it's a journey into the heart of Noh. Its interactive features enable a deep exploration, tailored to the reader's interests. The platform reveals the nuances of Noh expression to serve both education and research. It is a testament to the power of digital humanities in enriching our understanding of traditional art forms like Noh.

1. Zeami: Performance Notes. Translated by Tom Hare. New York: Columbia University Press, 2008

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