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Comic plays mark anniversary

by Edan Corkill

Staff Writer

While the most prominent of entertainment company Yoshimoto Kogyo’s myriad business interests are the near endless TV appearances by its contracted comedians, the real heart of its operation lies not in the studio but on the stage.

It was exactly 100 years ago this month that Yoshibe Yoshimoto and his wife, Sei, bought out a small theater in Osaka and began hosting rakugo (comic storytelling) performances — and with that what is now one of Japan’s largest entertainment companies was born.

Those theatrical roots are still apparent in the company’s continued operation of seven playhouses around the country and its deployment of even its most famous comedians in those venues’ high-paced cycle of comic plays and standup shows.

It’s not surprising, then, that the centerpiece of the company’s yearlong celebration of its centenary is a series of 12 live-action comic plays being held at its newly rebuilt Namba Grand Kagetsu theater in Osaka. Each running for roughly one month, the 12 plays will tell one chapter in the 100-year history of the company. The first, which conveys the tale of Yoshibe (played by comedian Tomonori Jinnai) and Sei (played by actress Ryoko Kuninaka) and their bold move into theater management all those years ago, began on April 13 and will continue through May 6.

The second play in the “Yoshimoto 100-Year Story” series will run from May 14 till June 6 and will describe the origins of manzai (two-person comic routines), which is now a staple of Japanese humor.

“Yoshimoto 100-Year Story” takes place at Namba Grand Kagetsu theater in Osaka. For information on tickets, visit www.yoshimoto.co.jp/100th/monogatari (in Japanese).