Rakugo, an art form originating in the Edo period(1603-1868), is performed by a rakugoka(sometimes called hanashika)in kimono who sits on a cushion(zabuton) in the middle of the stage and tells entertaining stories.
The entrance of the storyteller is announced by unique music called gdebayashih, a brief flourish of shamisen ( three-stringed Japanese instrument) and drums.
While remaining seated, the rakugoka uses voices and gestures to play various roles ( children, commoners or warriors. etc.) When he portrays two different characters, he turns his head to the right or left. Actually this movement of his head has to be done according to a certain rule. Seen from the audience, the right of the stage is guph, and the left is hdownh. In Japan people who are older or in higher position are supposed to be seated guph side. So the rakugoka must turn his head to the right when he acts as a servant or a wife talking to his master or her husband, and to the left in the opposite situation.
His only props are a hand cloth and fan. The fan can be used to evoke different objects, such as a tobacco, a glass, chopsticks or a sword.
2. What types of rakugo are there?
* Otoshibanashi Stories ending with a joke or pun.
* Ninjoubanashi@ Stories of human compassion, generally longer than other types and characterized by their lack of comic punch line. Most of them are affecting stories portraying love between parents and children or husbands and wives that would bring tears to the eyes of the audience.
*Kaidanbanashi Ghost stories. The storyteller sometimes wears a ghost mask and the story is accompanied by music to create the appropriate mood.
* Shibaibanashi The storyteller mimics the actorsf voices and facial expressions of a popular theatrical story. In addition to these classical rakugo stories, there are gnewh rakugo stories. They have been produced since Taisho period.( 1912-1925)
3. How is rakugo performance structured?
A rakugo performance generally begins with the storytellerfs preliminary remarks, known as the makura(literally means pillow.) The preliminary remarks serve to get the audience in the right mood with a piece of gossip or an amusing story in some way related to the main story. There are various kinds of punch lines such as a subtle joke requiring some thought to appreciate it, a gesture instead of words, or a pun.
4. Female rakugoka
For hundreds of years, rakugo had been performed only by men. However wefve seen some female rakugoka for the past twenty years or so.
Now there are five female rakugoka in Tokyo and three in Osaka.