Crying and Laughing with Somemaru 師匠と泣いたり笑ったり


Today Somemaru invited me to see a special taishû engeki production featuring the troupe of Hasegawa Takeya. Today Takeya’s wife, Ai Kyôka, starred in a play as “Okichi,” a woman who, legend has it, was forced to become a mistress against her will for the first American Consul in Japan, Townsend Harris (1804-78). In today’s version, Okichi reluctantly submits to the “call of duty,” but she and her true love, Tsurumatsu (Takeya), reunite years later. As happy as this reunion is, they pay for it dearly in a life filled with tragedy after heartbreaking tragedy. The couple never loses in the eyes of the audience though, because the couple’s love is undying in the truest sense. They maintain utmost dignity by refusing to let go of the one thing they value more than life: one another. Needless to say, I was deeply moved by the performance.

This  play was a tear-jerker indeed. At points the entire theater was in tears! There were also happy points in the play where the audience (a completely packed house, some standing) could not help laughing out loud.

Can something like taishû engeki discussed side by side with rakugo? On the surface, they do not seem to have a single thing in common. In taishû engeki, audiences just have to sit back and enjoy the wonderful spectacle of bright lights, blaring music, fabulous makeup and kimono, and sex appeal. In traditional (denshô) rakugo, much more imagination is needed, along with a little knowledge about early modern Japan. Yet, there are some things these arts have in common that warrants discussing them together.

While taishû engeki is decidedly dramatic and rakugo comedic, they can also be the opposite. Themes of plays and stories are often similar, as are the periods (usually Edo and Meiji) represented. Another important thing they have in common is that they are both forms of taishû geinô, or arts for the masses. Both have their roots in the lower ranks of society, and were meant for people of the same class. While entertainers in both worlds occasional become wealthy, and it is not uncommon for the rich patronize them, taishû engeki and rakugo can still be considered arts of the taishû variety.

After having a good cry, along with some good laughs at the show, Somemaru and I got Chinese for dinner and parted for the evening.

Thank you for a great Monday Shishô!








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