Friday, October 30, 2009

New documentary introduces comedy icon Sanpei Hayashiya to a whole new generation

by Chris MaGee

With the 22nd annual Tokyo International Film Festival wrapping up last weekend its Japanese Eyes programme premiered eight new films from Japan to festival audiences. Tetsuaki Matsue's concert film "Live Tape" ended up taking home the top prize in the programme, but one other film that premiered as part of Japanese Eyes will hopefully introduce one of Japan's most famous comedians to a whole new audience overseas.

Television and pink eiga director Toshiyuki Mizutani's documentary "Jungle-House Three-Farts / Sanpei Hayashiya" chronicles the career of Sanpei Hayashiya, a seventh generation rakugo storyteller and beloved pop icon of the Showa Era. Born Yasujiro Ebina in Tokyo in 1925 the young Hayashiya dreamt of pursuing a career in medicine rather than the family business of rakugo, or solo comedic storytelling, but after graduating high school World War 2 happened and Hayashiya was drafted into the Imperial Army and served in mainland China. Upon his return from the War Hayashiya rethought life as a doctor and decided to follow in his father's footsteps and began studying to be a rakugo storyteller. It was s smart move. After apprenticing Hayashiya went on to sell out auditoriums with his act, but once he moved from the stage to the new medium of television in 1955 with appearances on the show "Shinjin rakugo kai" he went from popular comedian to overnight superstar. With his mop of frizzy hair which he would scratch for comic effect and his signature line "Sō nansu, okusan! (That's the way it is, madam!)" he got the whole nation laughing... and he became one of Japan's first multi-media stars. Unlike many stars he worked for all the major movie studios (Toho, Toei, Daiei and Nikkatsu) starring in five feature films between 1958 and 1965, put out chart-topping comedy albums, and was a TV spokesperson for everything to analgesic salve to candy. Sadly after suffering a cerebral hemorrhage in 1979 he ended up dying of complications from liver cancer in 1980, but the bright spot is that his son, Shōzō Hayashiya, has followed in his father's footsteps and is now an eigth generation rakugo comedian and television tarento.

The trailer for "Jungle-House Three-Farts / Sanpei Hayashiya" looks like a must for any fan of Japanese entertainment history, or fans of comedy in general. Unfortunately it hasn't been posted on YouTube, so to check it out head over to the Tokyo IFF Japanese Eyes page here. While you're here though check out this clip of Sanpei Hayashiya in action during his heyday.

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