Monthly Archives: September 2009

Rocking the Rakugo

Rakugo Flyer

” I hope he has new jokes,” quipped a colleague upon learning that master Rakugo performer Katsura Kaishi will be returning to Manila for a one-night-only show.

Mr. Kaishi has been to Manila 3 times in 2003, 2004 and 2005, and true enough, he has repeated (and repeated) his “This is a pen” joke everytime. In fairness, the joke doesn’t seem that dated or stale. In fact, it got a lot of laughs all those times. It does help to explain too that in rakugo, the jokes are meant to be repeated. In fact, some of the jokes may be older than Mr. Kaishi — about 400 years old. (To be fair again, Mr. Katsura does add new material into his act, aside from the tried rakugo spiels.)

The genius is in the delivery. 

And the Japanese are world-known to be sticklers for delivery — be they schedules or cues. What is highlighted most especially in the rakugo is the Japanese sense of humor.

In our September newsletter, an article on the rakugo downplays Japanese humor. Which explains one thing: that the writer is Japanese.

The Japanese are a funny people. They might look meek and mild but wait till they loosen up! Even explaining the rakugo is amusing: rakugo is Japanese traditional stand-up comedy, sitting down.

Mr. Katsura’s performance will be welcomed by Filipino audiences. If there is something Filipinos like, nay– love to do, it’s to laugh. About things, situations, other people, themselves. Filipinos are more likely to be asked, “Why are you laughing” and “What are you laughing at?” during times of great stress and trouble — for example during the past coup d’etats. It’s become like a security blanket for some, a lifeline for most.

Katsura Kaishi

Katsura Kaishi

Connecting with Japanese culture through laughter is surely helpful in debunking cultural myths like “the Japanese are very serious and strict people,” (some Filipinos are more so, imho) and bridges whatever cultural gaps.

Back to the concern of my colleague. With Mr. Katsura’s over 180 rakugo performances worldwide and his being named Cultural Exchange Ambassador of Japan is guarantee for a colorful, lively, hilarious and insightful performance.

Mr. Katsura is sure to rock the rakugo.

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English Rakugo: Japanese Sit-Down Comedy in English with Katsura Kaishi will be held on September 25, Friday, 7PM at the Ayala Museum.  On September 26, Mr. Katsura will perform the rakugo at the Ayala Center, Cebu. Organized by the Japan Foundation, Manila (JFM), Ayala Museum, the Japanese Consulate in Cebu, Japanese Association in Cebu, JCCICI, and the Ayala Center. Clickthecity.com is the official online media partner.

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Creating a New Classic

Hisashiburi-desu! Long time, no see ( new articles from me!).

Would just like to give you a peek not at the J-Classic Concert, which was a highlight of the Philippine-Japan Friendship Month celebration last July, but the J-Classic Masterclasses and Talk held at the UST Conservatory of Music.

 T. Hagiwara, R. Kataoka, A. Ishikawa, S. Aoyagi

T. Hagiwara, R. Kataoka, A. Ishikawa, S. Aoyagi

Last July 14 and 15, we were visited by four of the freshest faces of Japanese classical music – Susumu Aoyagi (piano), Takako Hagiwara (flute), Ayako Ishikawa (violin), and Risa Kataoka (koto). Their musicality and talent is already a given. What sets them apart from the others is a carefully planned strategy to project a certain image, and to appeal to a certain market. Genius brand marketing.

A commercial approach to art (artists as products) has been a problematic concept for some Filipino artists, especially to those still harboring romantic thoughts about art and culture, but it business in arts is a reality. This was the sobering truth that Mr. Hiroyuki Takashima, the 75-year old producer of this touring J-Classic production, pronounced to a young audience at the UST Conservatory of Music.

Mr. Takashima at the UST Conservatory of Music

Mr. Takashima at the UST Conservatory of Music

Aided by an interpreter, Mr. Takashima narrated his experiences as a music producer which started when vinyl was still in. His fondest memories were of bringing the Beatles into Japanese consciousness in the 60’s when American music were favorites. He recounted how he had to come up with clever promotional and publicity gimmicks– creating Beatles buzz by partnering with hairdressers and stylists to popularize the Beatles cut and fashion; engaging radio stations and their listeners by first “planting” requesters who wanted to hear Beatles music; and even producing a one-of-a-kind collectible record.

Beatles Memorabilia

Beatles Memorabilia

The Beatles' autographed photo personally given to Mr. Takashima

The Beatles' autographed photo personally given to Mr. Takashima

I wanna hold your... collectible Beatles record

I wanna hold your... collectible Beatles record

Mr. Takashima’s stories were well-appreciated as they showed the inner workings of the Japanese music industry then. I just wonder how those methods will work with today’s technology, when TV, radio and print media are no longer the channels of trends and taste. I suspect the young music students also were interested to find out how to put out their music and themselves in a tech savvy environment, but instead was treated to good old nostalgia.  

At the early part of his talk, Mr. Takashima did mention some useful advice for the young students. It worked for the J-Classic musicians, for Mr. Takashima’s stable of  talents, and for his daughter,renowned Japanese classical violinist,  Chisako Takashima.

 Mr. Takashima’s Advice to Young Musicians

  1. Practice, practice, practice. Be sure you are excellent in your craft. This can only be done by discipline and dedication.
  2. Take care of one’s appearance. That one is an excellent musician should be a given. But not all excellent musicians are successful as we all know. If one aspires to be well-known, then the musician must be attractive and healthy as well. Clear skin, a trim figure, fetching fashion sense. This is what will separate you from the rest of the pack.
  3. Get good representation ( someone like Mr. Takashima) and have a plan. Classical music is not something pop(ular) in the Philippines, but it could well be, given the talent and creativity of Filipinos. This is the wondeous feat of Mr. Takashima, when he reintroduced classical music to a younger Japanese audience. One could self-manage oneself or get a manager, what is essential is the preparation and planning for a successful classical music career. Envision what you want for yourself , plan for it, do it.

Apply these and who knows when a new Filipino classic musician will emerge. Soon?

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