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Katsura Sunshine’s Rakugo
New World Stages, 340 W. 50th St. NYC
Sept. 19, 2019 until Jan. 4, 2020.
Thursday and Saturday, 8 PM. $39-$99.
For more information and tickets,
call (212)239 6200 or visit Telecharge.com or www.Rakugo.lol
Reviewed by Glenda Frank.
Such a surprise! To see a large, decidedly blonde and obviously Caucasian man performing a traditional Japanese art. Meet Katsura (Storyteller) Sunshine, the King of Kimono Comedy. Rakugo is the 400-year-old art of comic narration, and Sunshine is one of only two (of the 800) Rakugo masters who was not born in Japan. Yet it is Sunshine who was chosen to be Master of Ceremonies at the opening reception of the G-20 Summit in Osaka in 2019. Soon into the show, you understand why. He is funny -- and more than funny. His show has a wicked take on the absurdities and charms of Japanese social conventions as it glides seamlessly between winning stories and his insights into his adopted country. “My hope [is] that you will come for an evening of laughter and ... leave with a piece of Japan in your heart.” His delivery is quick, his diction clear, in English and in Japanese, as my friend a Japanese sensei (teacher) told me. To a foreigner he sounds authentic, and the Japanese-speakers in the audience erupted into waves of laugher long before the translations, which quickly followed.
We all hate a hypocrite, especially one who makes us feel bad. Sunshine has a story about two guests, thoughtful birthday presents and tofu. A visitor apologizes that he forgot his friend’s birthday. The generous host shares his gifts: a bottle of rare sake and a fish delicacy. The guest is overwhelmed. He has only dreamed of tasting such wonders. His praise and gratitude seem exaggerated, but the host is pleased. Soon a second guest arrives, a know-it-all who looks down his nose at everything. The host and guest decide to play a trick on this blowhard. The host is a gentle man, but his warnings are arrogantly brushed aside. Even I, no fan of practical jokes, was delighted at the second guest’s convolution to save face.
Sunshine’s personal stories involve his three year apprenticeship with Master Katsura Bunshi VI and his hilarious struggles with the language. My favorite is about a taxi ride to the Statue of Liberty with his master, who spoke no English, and their immigrant taxi driver. My friend’s favorite was the lyrics to the opening Japanese rap song.
Sunshine is the equivalent of a clever stand-up comic with skillful build-ups to the punchlines. He studied Ancient Greek literature at the University of Toronto. In 1995 his version of Aristophanes’ “The Clouds” ran for 15 months in Toronto before beginning a nationwide tour. He had heard Japanese drama was similar to the Greek, so he visited, planning to remain for 6 months. Nine years later, he was accepted as a Rakugo apprentice. His intelligence shows but never clashes with the comedy. There is so much to enjoy in these 75 minutes. And for those considering a return, Sunshine will tell different stories throughout the run.
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