“YÛGEN” was presented at the Royal Opera of Versailles in Paris on September 12, 2018. Directed by Amon Miyamoto and performed by actors of the Kanze School of Noh, “YÛGEN” is based on the Noh plays Shakkyo and Hagoromo. Combined with this traditional performance, 3D images depict the nature of Japan and create a world of delicate beauty (yugen) on stage, resulting in a new performing art form.
His Imperial Highness the Crown Prince of Japan and French President Emmanuel Macron attended the performance, which received thunderous applause. We spoke with Miyamoto about directing this innovative production in which he combines traditional Noh with the latest 3D technology.
― Why did you choose Noh for this performance at the Palace of Versailles?
Noh takes a minimalist approach in portraying the present and the hereafter. It is a beautiful form of entertainment that has been pruned of unnecessary elements and perfected over the 700 years since the time of Noh legends Kan’ami and Zeami. But Noh has now been refined so thoroughly that some aspects can be difficult for modern viewers to understand. Rather than present Noh in its conventional format, I decided to create a ‘bridge’ using 3D technology to make it somewhat easier to follow. I hoped that the bridge would help the audience here in France to gain a deeper appreciation of the beauty of Noh.
Red lion: Saburota Kanze. White lion: Takanobu Sakaguchi
― Where did you get the idea to combine Noh and 3D?
The idea came to me when projection mapping was suggested for a performance in Singapore. I decided to go a step further and combine live performances with 3D projection, which is still a rarity on stage. I thought it would be more interesting to have the performers interact with the visuals on stage, rather than simply using them as a background. Of course, I was fully aware that this approach would likely bring strong criticism from Noh circles.
Celestial creature: Yoshimaru Sekine
― Why were you so determined that it be a Noh performance?
Early Noh was performed outdoors, and I’m sure it was truly dramatic entertainment. Some consider the plays to be musicals, and it’s also said that the movement was much faster than it is today. Unlike other stage performances, Noh can switch dimensions freely, transcending time, connecting this world with the afterlife, and even venturing into space. The audience at the time probably enjoyed being surprised and actively using their imagination, rather than just watching passively with a stern expression. I wanted to bring back the drama of early Noh, but focusing too much on that image when creating the 3D scenography would have lost sight of the worldview of modern-day Noh. We were very careful to create a balance and avoid giving too much away with the visuals. That way, the audience could use their five senses and even their sixth sense, employing imagination to see things that may not be visible to the eye.
― What were the differences between the shows in Singapore and France?
For the show in France, we reduced the amount of exposition compared to Singapore. The French are well acquainted with Japanese culture and the spirit of wabi sabi. They are, after all, the people who taught the world about Japonism. I eliminated some of the overt exposition because I trusted that the audience would understand the performance without it. President Macron was kind enough to say that it was a wonderful performance, like none that he had ever seen before. This project was the joint effort of many. The Noh actors told me that they had always wanted to perform this kind of Noh. The whole experience was very rewarding for me.
― Did you make any new discoveries with the performance in France?
Another major reason so many people enjoyed the performance was that it was held at the historical Palace of Versailles. The venue was resplendent with the lights on, but once they were turned off, it became pitch black and truly silent. There are few places in the world today where you can encounter true darkness. We fear darkness, but we find warmth and beauty in it once we overcome the fear. The culture of Japan developed when people were living in coexistence with this kind of darkness as a part of nature. And that spirit resonates with the rest of the world. France also has darkness and nature. Other nations as well. The longing is universal, even in countries that have different views about nature.
This combination of Noh and 3D was not just a collaboration spanning the ages. It also transcended national borders, conveying the splendor of Japanese culture to a distant land and leaving many people deeply moved. Miyamoto’s bridge—in the form of this 3D live Noh performance—successfully connected Japan and France, deepening cultural exchange and enhancing understanding between the two nations.
Stage photos: ©KOS-CREA
Interview, text, and photographs provided by Kosuke Kawakami