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Nou is Japan's oldest musical theater form. It was developed in the 14th century (the Muromachi period) by Kan'ami and his son, Zeami. While kabuki and bunraku (puppet theater) were for the ordinary people, nou was for warriors or samurai.
The story is spoken in a recitation known as utai. The principal characters wear lacquer-coated masks made of wood and colorful brocade costumes. The dance-movements are performed slowly. Unlike the normal stage, the nou stage has an extension on one side. The actors appear on the stage by walking along the corridor connecting the back stage to the stage.
There are no stage props, though there is always a single pine tree painted on the back wall of the stage. Nou masks limit facial expression and the actors put no sentiment in their voice. However, mysterious gestures and monotonic music display a unique artistic beauty known as yuugen (the subtle and profound).
There about 250 nou plays in existence today. They are divided into five groups according to subject matter: shin (gods), nan (men/warriors), nyo (women), kyou (madness) and ki (demons). The concepts of most plays have a Buddhist influence.
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