Japanese humor was revealed, for those Israelis who may perhaps not have been aware of its existence, by traditional Kyogen comedies, performed by Japanese actors. The performance was sponsored by the Japan Foundation and the Japanese Embassy.
The 14th century Kyogen plays are the comic alternative to Noh theater, that is mostly tragic. Although sidesplittingly comical, Kyogen acting is highly stylized, with nothing slapstick-like about it, being intended for the ancient military aristocracy and, nowadays, for the Japanese intelligentsia.
The performed plays Kagyuu (“The Snail”) and Yobikoe (“The Call”) satirize the master-servant relationship. In many Kyogen plays the servant is portrayed as clever, and the samurai master as being outwitted by the servant – the same samurai who actually patronized the Noh and Kyogen theater. This indicates that Japanese humor pokes fun not only at others but also on oneself – an attitude that has not changed throughout the ages.
The actors were members of the renowned Okura school – Noritoshi, Noritaka and Rintaro Yamamoto, and Takashi Wakamatsu. Though comical and poignant, their performance was also meticulously refined and elegant, never gliding into the vulgar.
The audience’s enjoyment was significantly enhanced by the introductory comments by actor-scholar Tzvika Serper, who no only explained the historical and theoretical background, but also personally illustrated some typical Kyogen movements and vocal features.