Facial expressions developed by shadows

The 12 Noh mask images having overlaid shadows with different facial expressions (Credit: Nobuyuki Kawai et al./PLoS ONE)
The 12 Noh mask images having overlaid shadows with different facial expressions (Credit: Nobuyuki Kawai et al./PLoS ONE)


Main Point:

Researchers have found that shadows are helpful in changing the facial expressions of expert actors wearing Noh masks in Japanese traditional Noh drama.

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Study Further:

Noh Drama and Masks:

The word “Noh” has been derived from nō, which means “talent” or “skill”.

Noh dramas are Japanese traditional form and represent one of the oldest extant theatrical forms in the world. In this form of drama, Noh performers use visual appearances and movements to represent the tale rather than acting.

Interestingly, Noh performers use hard wooden masks with fixed physical properties and through these masks they give different presentations of emotions. “During the actual Noh drama the mask conveys all kinds of different emotional facial expressions, as termed “mugen hyojo (infinite facial expressions)”,” Researchers wrote.


Mona Lisa (Credit: Wikipedia)
Mona Lisa (Credit: Wikipedia)

In the present study, researchers have found that the Noh mask images with the shadows of upward and downward tilted masks were evaluated as sad and happy, respectively. They have reported that the masks represent more happiness while tilting from upward to downward tilting angles and the largest downward tilting angle, i.e. +30 degrees, in this case, showed more happiness.

“The results thus suggest the effect of shadows in terms of altering the emotional impressions of a Noh mask, by simply changing the head inclinations of the original images,” Researchers wrote.

Researchers are of the opinion that this finding can also represent the mysterious facial expressions found in Western paintings, such as the elusive qualities of Mona Lisa’s smile, which is more apparent in the peripheral vision than in the central vision.

Not only in western culture but also in eastern culture, such as in Beijing opera (Chinese classical opera) and Kabuki (Japanese classical drama), the effect of shadows represent different emotions.


Noh TheatreEncyclopaedia Britannica

Nobuyuki Kawai, Hiromitsu Miyata, Ritsuko Nishimura, Kazuo Okanoya (2013). Shadows Alter Facial Expressions of Noh Masks PLoS ONE DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0071389

Usman Zafar Paracha

Usman Zafar Paracha is a sort of entrepreneur. He is the author of "Color Atlas of Statistics", and the owner of an Android game "Faily Rocket."