On the Kôza with determination to live, no matter what… Shokyô’s battle against cancer
This October Shôfukutei Shokyô (61), who is fighting late-stage liver cancer, will begin the first of sixteen solo shows (dokuenkai), which will span over a four-year period. It has been nine months since this prominent performer of orthodox Kamigata rakugo received his cancer diagnosis. He said it is his fans who have inspired him to get out of bed. He wants to make them laugh, and is therefore determined to take on such a challenge. “I can’t let my fans down. I have to fulfill my duty to them no matter what,” he swears (to reach his goal).
“My blood tests were showing bad numbers, and the doctors told me, ‘You can check out of the hospital when they go down.’ After that it was sheer will power. I knew I had to make it to my show, and then they dropped significantly in just two days. They said, in spite of themselves, ‘Do we have the right person’s blood?”
Late last month, the audience was in tears with laughter at a show at the Osaka Tenman Tenjin Hanjôtei. Although close to half of Shokyô’s 45-minute set was about his experiences battling cancer, it was a performance laced with jokes throughout. There was nothing to indicate an ounce of tragedy.
Born in the city of Ono, in Hyôgo Prefecture, Shokyô entered the artistic school of Shôfukutei Shokaku VI when he was 17. Not able to correct his Banshû accent, this “awkward kid” was regularly slapped around by Shokaku VI as he underwent rigorous training. In time, Shokyô distinguished himself as a master of traditional Kamigata rakugo. In 2007, his telling of Hyaku-nenme [The Hundredth Year] won him the Grand Prize [daishô] at the Agency for Cultural Affairs Arts Festival Awards, and he was even called “the hanashika who carries on the quintessence of the Shôfukutei school.”
But last December Shokyô received the unexpected diagnosis. Constantly feeling tired, he had some tests run and learned that he had liver cancer. “If there’s anybody you want to see, or anything left you would like to do, now is the time.” Told this by the doctor in the examination room, “Everything just went black. Thinking this was how I was going to die, I was too scared to sleep.”
It was already too late to operate on the cancer. The doctor said, “No treatment whatsoever is one possible option.” He felt as though he would suffocate from the despair, but his wife Keiko’s (58) words, “Everybody’s waiting to hear your rakugo, Dad,” roused him into taking the medicine and radiation treatment necessary to fight the cancer. He has used his time in the hospital to learn new stories, and has had no shortage of vocal exercise.
In April he made the comeback to the kôza that he had hoped. And next month, he will set out to achieve his next goal. Over a four-year period, once a season, four times a year, Shokyô will put on a series of shows, which he has titled “Sixteen Nights of Shokyô” (Shokyô jûrokuya).
“There are all kinds of people suffering with cancer, so I would like to do a little something to encourage them. I’m not going to go out that easily. I’m going to make cancer my friend, and keep on living. I want everybody to see that.”
Shokyô says that doctors recently confided in him, saying, “We thought you had no more than six months to live. We can’t call it anything but a miracle.” Shokyô has an explanation. “Making people laugh allows me to laugh more. I heard laughing helps strengthen your immune system. But I’m also making money, and it all helps.” Believing in the power of rakugo, Shokyô has his eyes set on completing “Sixteen Nights of Shokyô” in the summer of 2016.
The first show, “Night One,” will be held on October 19 at 6:30pm at the Osaka-Abeno Kumin Center. He has chosen to tell the stories Tsubozan (Calculating Pots) and Sumiyoshi kago (The Sumiyoshi Palenquin), both of which are “Shokyô-style stories, filled with plenty of laughs.”
(September 8, 2012, Yomiuri shinbun [Translated by Matthew W. Shores])
（2012年9月8日 読売新聞 リンクはこちらへ）