…in English thank goodness.
So the Japanese have a traditional form of storytelling mixed with comedy. (I’m pretty sure everywhere does). It’s called Rakugo and it’s about as minimalist as you’d expect. A single storyteller in the middle of a raised stage conducts the entire performance kneeling on a pillow with only a fan, a small handkerchief, and TONS of attitude. Think of Robin Williams pinned to a small cushion in a kimono. (Brains explode yet?)
But this is not your Punch and Judy, make-it-up-on-the-spot kind of comedy. Naturally it has hundreds of years of tradition and 3-4 years of apprenticeship doing just about every menial chore you could think up for your master in exchange for learning to mimic the movements of the basic characters (some of which are very scripted), their voices, their stories, etc… So it was a whole lot of fun to watch, they didn’t exactly convince either of us to abandon our career paths and pursue “sit-down comedy”.
Kaishi Katsuro is the performer who came to do his show for us and his specialty is English Rakugo. (I can tell you, I’ve tried watching it in Japanese and the jokes just don’t come thru… the audience is in stitches and I’m five sentences back trying to figure out what that word was…) He took this show on the road across the States a while back, everywhere from the Kennedy Center to roadside shows in Indiana.
But enough talking, here’s a video clip of Kaishi Katsuro in action. If you only want the highlights, check out 3:00-4:40 for a general overview of the performance style and from 5:20 on is a story about a rickshaw that he also performed for us. (Unfortunately it’s chopped up a little bit, so you miss the key detail that his rickshaw driver is trying to race a pair of express trains.) Enjoy!