The worst and saddest mask in Japanese theater

Japanese Theater No (能) originated in the XIV century and quickly gained popularity in aristocratic circles. Its distinctive feature was the masks worn by the actors during the performance. They had to look for new ways of self-expression, because their faces were covered, and they could only convey emotions with the help of gestures or dances, which became the hallmark of this theater. As for the masks, the most expressive of them is the Hannya mask (般若).

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The worst and saddest mask in Japanese theater
The worst and saddest mask in Japanese theater

At first glance, it’s not easy to say what kind of mood Hannya’s grimace is in. On the one hand, bared fangs tell us about rage, while downy eyebrows indicate sadness. The fact is that Hannya simultaneously embodies both states. This becomes clear from the plot of the play “Lady Aoi” (葵 上 ), where the mask plays the main role.

The worst and saddest mask in Japanese theater 2
The worst and saddest mask in Japanese theater 2

The play tells how, in ancient times, the wife of a Japanese prince named Lady Aoi suddenly turned into a terrible horned demon. And she began to terrorize the inhabitants of the palace.

The worst and saddest mask in Japanese theater 3
The worst and saddest mask in Japanese theater 3

They called the priest, who made the possessed one tell her story. It turned out that she was possessed by the vengeful spirit of the prince’s mistress. The girl was his favorite and looked forward to happy futures until Lady Aoi appeared on the horizon. The prince married her, and the mistress was out of work. Every day, she watched the newlyweds drive past her window in their carriage, because of which the abandoned lover gradually died of grief. Finally, her soul left her body, but instead of going to the afterlife, she decided to torment her rival and, at the same time, her entire family.

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  • Tengu (heavenly dog) from Japanese folk religion, typified with long nose.
  • Tengu is a major role in Japanese Noh play.
  • Display of Japanese culture, Noh mask made of resin with facial painting.
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The worst and saddest mask in Japanese theater 4
The worst and saddest mask in Japanese theater 4

Thus, the Hannya mask became the bearer of the subtle psychologism inherent in Japanese culture. She talks to us about issues of justice and retribution, sadness that turns into anger, and vengeance. At the end of the play, Lady Aoi’s spirit still lets go, but she never comes back to life, which further enhances the drama of the piece, adding another, tragic shade to the mask.

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