SARUGAKU is said to be introduced from China long long time ago but it seems like its comic sketch style consisting of mimics was established about 650 years ago in MUROMACHI period.
“NŌ” (Japanese classical musical drama) has also its origin in SARUGAKU, and KYŌGEN and NŌ are played always in a set.
I would say that KYŌGEN is comedy and NŌ is tragedy more or less.
In KYŌGEN, satire and tales of common people’s failure in daily life are usually the plots of the scripts.
The story develops by dialogues and there is a rule here: the character who enters into the stage for the first time must give a self-introduction which is called “NANORI” (名乗り).
And the funny thing is that the NANORI is always made saying “I am a local here” (このあたりの者でござ～る).
Whenever, wherever a KYŌGEN performance is played, even in New York or Paris, it is always the same phrase for 650 years.
It is said that thanks to this conventional phrase, spectators can find a universal form of man in each character.
You want to drink a lot or be rich but if you throw yourself at them recklessly without reason, you end in a fiasco. The point of laugh in KYŌGEN is here.
Although a Japanese present comedy performance called “OWARAI” tries to make people laugh by jokes or gags or stupid gestures most of the case, the way to win a laugh in KYŌGEN is to let people find something comical and humorous in the character’s too serious attitude to life.
Clearly explained Japanese well know KYŌGEN stage actor MANSAI NOMURA, his performance that I saw almost 20 years ago was just fabulous.
I couldn’t keep my eyes off his completely honed artistic sense and it is understandable as he does Shakespeare play as well to broaden his “GEI” (art).
Above is the program “SANBASŌ” performed by MANSAI.
I have been a fun of him since I knew the huge mental conflict he underwent.
He was born in a hereditary KYŌGEN actor family as a son of MANSAKU NOMURA II who was designated as Living National Treasure.
When he was young, he experienced strong riptide against the fact that he must succeed it under the strict rule of “ISSHI SŌDEN” (一子相伝, a traditional succession rule to hand down to only one son).
Trying to find his identity, he studied drama in Europe and finally returned to KYŌGEN.
The depth of his outstanding performance derives from all these experiences.
In KYŌGEN, lines are instructed orally from a master to a pupil, which is called “KUDEN” (口伝)
Born as a son of KYŌGEN actor family, the KUDEN starts at the age of 3.
Of course you don’t understand the meaning of the lines, but this is to learn the rhythm.
In the world of KYŌGEN, it is said “play a monkey in making one’s debut, and a fox to finish the carrier” so the 3 year old child plays a monkey.
What a tough life!
In order to succeed a Japanese tradition, it is a must to keep a strict relationship with your father as your absolute master and to practice KUDEN from childhood.
I am convinced that this is the extremity of art and which is no doubt a national treasure that Japan boasts to the world.