The Japanese tradition of rakugo (comedic storytelling) depends largely on a quick wit and a way with words. So when storyteller Hayashiya Kanpei became speech-impaired due to a stroke, the challenge he faced getting back on stage was a momentous one.
Kanpei, 67, and his struggles are the subject of a new documentary film titled “Namida no Kazu dake Warao Yo” (“Let’s Laugh As Many Times As We Cry”).
The artist was 41 when he suffered a brain hemorrhage. It left him paralyzed on the right side of his body, which also affected his speech. Popular for his brisk way of speaking and specializing in classic rakugo stories, Kanpei had been promoted only five years earlier to the status of master storyteller or shin-uchi.
For a rakugoka, who tells comical stories while sitting on stage clad in kimono, the effects of the stroke were horrific.
Kanpei, whose real name is Kazuo Shibuya, gradually recovered from the ordeal to write his own story and perform it on stage.
“I love classical rakugo stories featuring warm human relationships,” he says. “But as recommended by the people around me, I decided to write a new story to express myself.”
“Let’s Laugh As Many Times As We Cry” depicts Kanpei’s arduous rehabilitation process, which continued even while nursing his 93-year-old mother at his home in Tokyo. It also focuses on the support he received from friends and fellow rakugo performers.
In August, Kanpei performed his new monologue, “Let’s Go, Shogaisha” (shōgaisha is the Japanese word for a person who has a disability), on stage as part of a show organized in Tokyo by disciples of Hayashiya Sanpei I to commemorate their late master.
In the last part of the monologue, Kanpei said, “We shōgaisha feel refreshed when we go out and meet people,” which drew a round of applause from the audience.
Kazuhito Ogino, a former movie studio executive who planned the documentary says that Kanpei’s efforts have proven inspirational to people in his generation who are concerned about life after retirement.
The film was first shown at a theater in Shinjuku, central Tokyo, in early September and is scheduled to be screened at other selected theaters through November.