The House of Kanze

Zeami Motokiyo occupies a place in Japanese drama comparable to that of William Shakespeare on the English stage. As an actor and playwright, he definitively established the form of the Noh theater--a living tradition from his time to the present. His plays, along with those of his father, Kanami, and his eldest son, Motomasa, dominate the Noh repertory.

Despite Zeami’s fame, relatively little is reliably known about his life. Working imaginatively from those facts (and bending them, she acknowledges, when it suits her purposes), Nobuko Albery tells the story of Zeami and his remarkable family (the “house of Kanze” of the title). The Shakespearean echo is appropriate, for this is a classic tragedy, the rise and fall of a great man, yet it has a distinctively Eastern resolution: Zeami, exiled, betrayed by his own sons, transcends his fate in a spirit of Buddhistic acceptance.

The central and most interesting relationship in the novel is that between Zeami and his patron, the shogun Yoshimitsu. Smitten by the beauty of the adolescent Zeami, the bisexual Yoshimitsu (himself then still in his teens) scandalizes the court by taking the boy, a lowly actor, as his lover and companion. In later years, he supports Zeami’s art, for which, despite his self-centered arrogance, he has a genuine appreciation.

Readers who are looking for the strong narrative drive of some best-selling historical novels will be disappointed in THE HOUSE OF KANZE. On the other hand, readers who are primarily interested in the historical setting will find much that is absorbing in this re-creation of a distant time.