In the summer of 2016 two Italian film makers, Giuliano Cammarata and Alessio Nicastro, visited Kyoto, where they documented the training sessions and performances of Udaka Michishige and his students. The Flight of the Heron is an excerpt from a forthcoming longer documentary, featuring interviews with Michishige, his sons and daughter, and with members of the International Noh Institute.
We are glad to share this short video on occasion of the First Udaka Michishige Memorial Recital, taking place on August 22 2021 at the Kongō Nō Theatre in Kyoto. Subtitles are available in English, Japanese, and Italian.
Udaka Michishige was an important actor of nō, one of the most elegant Japanese performing arts, and the only shite actor of his generation who was also a nō mask carver. When he was twelve years old he became the final live-in apprentice, or uchi-deshi, of Kongō Iwao II, the 25th Grand Master of the Kongō School in Kyoto. Since that time, he dedicated his life to studying, practicing, and teaching nō. During the more than fifty years of his career as a professional nō actor, he reached the peak of this artistic discipline, including the authoring and performance of three original nō plays. In 1986, he founded the International Noh Institute (INI) in order to offer training in chant (utai), dance and mimetic movement (shimai), and mask carving to all the non-Japanese interested in nō theatre who approached him. Since that time, Michishige taught students from all walks of life: actors, dancers, designers, mask makers, musicians, psychologists, and scholars, from all over the world through INI programs. In 2016, to celebrate his 70th birthday and his extraordinary career, he performed the rare play called Sagi (The Heron). An actor may play this role only during two specific periods of his life: during his childhood or when advanced in years, often at the age of 70. Michishige had not performed this nō during his childhood and, on that occasion in 2016, he took this role for the first and only time.
The Flight of the Heron is a short documentary inspired by the documentary photography about Noh theatre taken over ten years’ time by photographer Fabio Massimo Fioravanti within the Kongō School of nō and focusing on Udaka Michishige, actor and nō mask carver. Michishige, his children, who have inherited his knowledge and craft, and his western pupils, who support his legacy with dedication, were filmed during the months before Sagi: a rarely performed play staged for the first and only time by Udaka Michishige in celebration of his 70th birthday. Through the Udaka family it is possible to discover the most human aspect of the rich artistry of nō: a form of theatre which has been transmitted continually for more than six centuries, as its traditions are passed on through its practitioners even as Japan has changed with the times, an art which demands the devotion to become one with the currents of its flow.