“No, Rensei is not my enemy. Pray for me again, oh pray for me again.”–“Atsumori”
Japanese Nō drama is a hard taste to acquire. A play with a ten-page script can go on for hours, as actors invest their barely perceptible gestures with monumental significance. It is an art form whose pleasures lie more in the journey than the destination.
Except for one. This is the story of Atsumori.
The roots of the Nō play Atsumori go back to a particularly poignant passage in the Japanese Epic, Tale of the Heike. In this episode, the warrior Kumagai, whose side has been victorious in a great battle, stumbles across a youthful, retreating soldier from the other side and debates whether or not to kill him. I will quote here at some length because it is important: