cover image Kissing the Mask: Beauty, Understatement, and Femininity in Japanese Noh Theater

Kissing the Mask: Beauty, Understatement, and Femininity in Japanese Noh Theater

William T. Vollmann, Author . Ecco $29.99 (500p) ISBN 978-0-06

The performance of female characters by male Noh actors sparks a deeply researched, lovingly detailed, and obsessive discourse on the nature of feminine beauty by award-winning novelist and essayist Vollmann (Imperium ). The book charts an increasingly peripatetic path through the meticulous yet ineffable art of Noh drama from the perspective of an enthusiast, all the while groping toward some definition of beauty and the feminine. But the feminine, and even the label “female,” is something widely claimed, and so the search takes him from a Tokyo transvestite bar to the feet of a master Noh actor—Umewaka Rokuro, scion of an ancient acting family—to the lips of the uncanny masks themselves, the kimonos of Kabuki geishas, and well beyond, traipsing far and wide across India, Babylon, the American fashion magazine industry, old Norse literature, the paintings of Andrew Wyeth, Yukio Mishima's Noh heroine Komachi, and a transgender community in Los Angeles, among other stops. The fervently reflective, probing narrative—replete with footnotes, glossary, illustrations, appendixes, and asides—demands patience, but rewards it on almost every page. (Apr.)