Osaka-based Yoshimoto Kogyo, the giant talent agency that celebrated its 100th anniversary last year, has made an enduring business out of that fleeting phenomenon: laughter.

Most of the nearly 700 tarento (TV personalities) on the Yoshimoto roster are comics, including many practitioners of manzai, the comedy duo form that originated in Yoshimoto's Kansai (Western Japan) heartland and has been a TV staple for more than three decades.

Not all Yoshimoto manzai acts are superstars like Downtown (Masatoshi Hamada and Hitoshi Matsumoto) and Ninety-nine (Takashi Okamura and Hiroyuki Yabe), but a surprisingly large number are nationally known. One barometer is the Okinawa International Movie Festival, held annually in Ginowan, Okinawa with Yoshimoto's backing, where young local fans squeal and shout at the dozens of Yoshimoto comics walking the red carpet on opening day. The fifth edition of the festival, held March 23-30 this year, attracted 53,000 first day visitors — a festival record — most of whom came to rubberneck the tarento.