"Hirusagari-no-Joji" - a variety show with clowns

I went to the sixth session of "Hirusagari-no-Joji", a variety show in which some 10 artists showed their special skills.

By the way, "Hirusagari-no-Joji" means "Humorous affairs in the early afternoon" and is a parody of the Japanese title of an American film "Love in Afternoon" from 1957 in which Audrey Hepburn played the role of an innocent music student. The American title was translated with some additional explanations and its Japanese title "Hirusagari-no-Joji" does not simply mean "love but "love affairs". I think that all spectators of the show know this and at the same time are aware that the surroundings of the venue offer good possibilities for love affairs, as the illustration of the flyer duly indicates it (see above).

I happened to know Oshima-san, the producer of this variety show, several years ago. Oshima-san has been working in the circus world and writing diverse books ranging from biographies of circus artists to the stories of fishermen who drifted out of Japan during the period of Japanese isolation. He started to work with inviting famous foreign circus companies to Japan and has been making efforts to support circus artists. Since 1988 Oshima-san is working at After Cloudy Company (ACC).

Mikumo Iori
The president of ACC, Nishida-san, is at the same time the headmaster of International Circus School, which is the only institution in Japan to train professional acrobat artists.

I find it interesting that Nishida-san and Oshima-san, both leading personalities in the Japanese circus world are especially interested in clowns among circus artists. Oshima-san wrote a book on the life of a Russian clown Vitaly Lazarenko and sells a DVD of the legendary clown Leonid Engibarov. One of their main projects "Fool Festival" is the international festival of clowns.

"Hirusagari-no-Joji" is an enterprise to show first of all the skills of clowns in a very informal and relaxed manner, while other types of artists enrich the program. From time to time ACC produces bigger events in interesting places such as ruined night club or movie theatre. Unfortunately it seems difficult to organize large scale events on regular basis.

Fukuro Koji
Therefore, they launched "Hirusagari-no-Joji" on 4 May last year in a live-house in Shibuya, O-nest. Thereafter, sessions take place in a very short interval, less than two months.

When Japan resumed its relations with the world in 1860s, about a half of the first Japanese people who tried their fortune abroad were acrobat and other circus artists. However, as the living standard improved the number of people engaging in hard jobs decreased. The variety of entertainments increased and maybe the taste of people also changed. There were still ca. 20 to 30 circus companies till 1960s, but now there exist only three: Kinoshita, Kigure and Pop Circus.
On the other hand, street performance has been gaining its popularity. Since the 1980s Shizuoka, Ohzu (Naoya) and Noge (Yokohama) host popular festivals of street performances. Though Japan has its traditional street performances, Westerns style performers or clowns who entertain people among others with juggling and pantomime are nowadays the mainstream. Some people complain this situation.

Japan also has a tradition of "yose", a sort of variety show in which "rakugo" - art of story telling with special emphasis on humors - plays the main part and magicians and acrobat artists entertain guests in the intermissions. The same artists might perform in yose, private parties or on the street.

Hirusagari-no-Joji is a sort of variety show, as I explained before. Unfortunately, the hall has a low ceiling and a limited space and it is not easy to show acrobat, juggling and other spectacular performances, though the Nishida-san's circus school has many talented performers.

I knew some of the performers from earlier events. It is not strange, because Mikumo Iori, for example, is a representative clown in Japan and Fukuro Koji is also active in various occasions including TV programs. Mikumo set the framework of the total program.

Fujiyama Kotaro
The show was not a series of unrelated performances but centered on the idea that Mikumo and Blacky were looking for their master who went to Thailand and disappeared, though the framework was not so strict.

Among the performers Fujiyama Kotaro impressed the audience with his elegant and smart presentation of the traditional Japanese magic. It is true that he could profit from the situation that he was the only one to show an art totally different from others. However, he successfully overcame the limitation of performing place. You can see his art on a page of his own internet site. I once saw his teacher Fujiyama Shintaro, the most respected master and representative of the traditional Japanese magic and am sure that Kotaro will be his good successor.

The short play performed by Aikokumaru and Bandaiya-sheishei was a nonsense parody of "The Rose of Versailles"; the original manga work turned to be a nation-wide phenomenon when it was played by Takarazuka Revue Theater. Aikokumaru inserted numerous poisonous political satires into their play such as criticism against various policy programs of the Democratic Party. The contents were different from what Aikokumaru shows on her internet site, but her idea was very intelligent and her performance had special allure.

There were several numbers of pantomime and a sort of dance performance. One impressive performance was made by Marudama Yosaku. In the first part he talked a lot about his love with a class mate during schooldays. Then in the second part, he escalated his wild fantasy about the girl and tried to kiss her. In order to express the inflated passion, he picked up huge artificial lips from behind a curtain he held in his hands, put them on his real lips and gazed at female spectators in the first row. This symbol of his love made us laugh endlessly.

The last number, the combination of Mikumo Iori and Blacky was also entertaining. Blacky is a skillful guitar player and they inserted diverse pop songs into their talk shows.

Unfortunately the smallness of the stage sets constraints on the types of performance. All clowns gave up showing their juggling and physical skills and the program became slightly monotonous. I wish I could see some acrobatic performances and other types of art. However, I will surely go to the next session of Hirusagari-no-Joji.