The ANA Yose 2017: Rakugo in English event at the RCBC Plaza

19 February 2017

On February 19, Dana and I were fortunate to have won tickets to the ANA Yose 2017 - Rakugo in English show held at the Carlos P. Romulo Auditorium in RCBC Plaza.  Rakugo is a 400-year old Japanese sit-down comedy tradition where the performer, armed only with a fan and an oversized towel, enacts hilarious stories that fire up the imagination.  This year's performance headlines Rakugo Master Kaishi Katsura with Asakichi Katsura (Rakugo Master), Eika Utsumi (Shamisen Musical Performer) and Lucky Mai (Traditional Comic performer).

It was in January when I saw the post about the event through the Facebook page of the Japan Foundation Manila.  They posted that tickets (2 for each person) will be raffled for the event provided interested parties will register through the ANA website.  I immediately signed up so that Dana and I can go.  

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On February 6th, I received an email saying that I won in the raffle and that I got two tickets to the event! I was so happy because this was such an opportunity to enrich our knowledge about Japan.  Best of all, it was free! :)

On the day of the show, Dana and I arrived around 2PM at the venue.  The show would start at 3PM but attendees were advised to be there at least 15 minutes before the show.  Also, it was "free seating" so we had to be there early to get good seats.

The registration went fast enough.  We were given our tickets and a simple program.  We were told we could go ahead and enter the theater.

When we entered, the theater was almost full! haha  I have to give props to the event organizers because everything went smoothly and there were people to assist you for whatever concern you may have.

Unfortunately, we weren't allowed to take pictures so I guess I'll just do my best in relating what went on during the show.

The show opened with a few words from the All Nippon Airways (ANA) General Manager Akihiro Hosoya and The Japan Foundation Manila Director Hiroaki Uesugi.  Everything was light, funny and easy in keeping with the theme of the show.

Then the show began.  The emcee, Fukuryu Katsura, was introduced.  Everyone was surprised when a Caucasian male stepped onto the stage haha  He did a good job breaking the ice and getting the audience in the right frame of mind for the show.

The first act involved Kaishi Katsura's "What is Rakugo" performance, Eika Utsumi's Onna Douraku:  Musical Story-telling and Asakichi Katsura's Rakugo Story.

Kaishi Katsura's "What is Rakugo" performance is more of an introduction to Rakugo than anything else.  It helps explain to the audience what to expect and how to interpret what goes on on the stage.  For instance, he demonstrated the difference between emoting a particular act given different backgrounds or settings like if he's in a huge house, an average-sized house and a tiny house.     In a huge house, naturally, he'd have to speak louder and there may even be an echo - all of which he has to portray on stage.  If it's in an average-size house, his voice should be softer or normal.  As an audience member, you have to discern the subtleties to better appreciate the performance :)

Also, he explained that he only had two props on stage - the sensu or the Japanese fan and a tenugui or a hand towel.

These things help set the mindset of the audience.  Imagination is the key.

 After his part, Kaishi Katsura exited the stage and Eika Utsumi came in.  In contrast to Kaishi Katsura's all-talk performance, Eika Utsumi wields her shamisen (a traditional 3-stringed Japanese musical instrument) to deliver a masterful song and story performance.  If you've seen the movie "Kubo and the 2 Strings", the musical instrument that Kubo plays is the shamisen (just for reference).

It was a very interesting performance and I really enjoyed it because this was the first time I've seen someone play that instrument and it amazed me!  Dana had the same feeling :)

The final performance for Act One was a Rakugo Story by Asakichi Katsura.  Now that we've been told what to expect, it's time to put our imagination to the test.  Asakichi's story was brilliantly told.  It was simple.  It was relatable.  It was funny. Dana and I know the story of Momotaro and we were giggling about it.

Then there was a 15-minute Intermission.  We didn't move from our seats so we didn't really know what happened outside of the theater during the break.

Then Act Two began with an unbelievable exhibition of Daikagura:  Traditional Clowning by Lucky Mai.  "Daikagura" is a vintage Japanese street art that combines balancing, juggling, magic and dance.  The way she balanced a ball, then a rice measuring cup and then a ceramic tea cup on a spinning Japanese umbrella is amazing!  These items were also spinning on their own, from the force of the spin of the umbrella.  She even let the ball roll/glide on the edge of the spinning umbrella without falling off.  And the rice measuring cup! Man, a traditional Japanese rice measuring cup is like a wooden box  it's square.  Yet she was able to make this run along on top of the spinning umbrella too! :) It was Sugoi! Amazing! The tea cup was exciting because if it falls, then it breaks.  But it didn't and it made the nicest sound :)  The audience couldn't stop clapping :)

She even asked a member of the audience to come up on stage to give it a try, just to show how hard it is to maintain the spin on the umbrella and to keep the objects moving on top of it.

Then she brought out different props for a balancing act like no other.  She set a tableau of different items on wooden sticks which she balanced on her chin. Yep, on her chin! :)  Some of it she balanced on a wooden stick which she held with her mouth. She kept adding to the length of the wooden sticks, increasing the difficulty.

Her next act involved balancing, and at the same time, spinning a huge, ceramic plate on wooden sticks.  After the wooden sticks, she replaced these with knives!! Oh man, that was the finale! :)  It was scary and exciting at the same time.  She really played to the audience.  It was fascinating! :)

To end Act Two, Kaishi Katsura performed the final story of the show.  All I can say is that he was great!  We were easily transported and brought along with him during the performance.  We were dismayed when it was over.

I hope these Japanese cultural events continue.  Thank you Japan Foundation Manila and All Nippon Airways for sponsoring and hosting ANA Yose 2017.  Thanks!! :)

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