Jo-ha-kyū

noh

Jo-ha-kyū is a concept of modulation and movement applied in a wide variety of traditional Japanese arts. Roughly translated to ‘beginning, break, rapid,’ it essentially means that all actions or efforts should begin slowly, speed up, and then end swiftly. This concept is applied to elements of the Japanese tea ceremony, kendō and other martial arts, dramatic structure in Japanese theater and film, and traditional collaborative linked verse forms. The concept originated in court music, specifically in the ways in which elements of the music could be distinguished and described. Though eventually incorporated into a number of disciplines, it was most famously adapted, and thoroughly analyzed and discussed by the great playwright Zeami, who viewed it as a universal concept applying to the patterns of movement of all things.

Zeami described the first act as ‘Love’; the play opens auspiciously, using gentle themes and pleasant music to draw in the attention of the audience. The second act is described as ‘Warriors and Battles.’ Though it need not contain actual battle, it is generally typified by heightened tempo and intensity of plot. The third act, the climax of the entire play, is typified by pathos and tragedy. The plot achieves its dramatic climax. The fourth is a michiyuki (journey), which eases out of the intense drama of the climactic act, and often consists primarily of song and dance rather than dialogue and plot. The fifth act, then, is a rapid conclusion. All loose ends are tied up, and the play returns to an auspicious setting.

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