Author: Hayden Carlton

Analise This!!

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In this blog post I’ll be analysing my previous post on my experience with stand-up comedy in Japan, so for those of you reading this post that haven’t read the post I did before, go read it. I chose to look at Japanese stand-up because I have a huge passion for stand up. I was curious as to what I would find in Japan, the country that has already given me so much. Anime, manga, ramen, sushi, so many amazing video games, all stuff that I love and all from Japan. Surely there stand up would be amazing as well.

In my analysis of my experience I will be looking at the epiphanies I had while I was immersing myself in Japanese stand up and the culture around it. Now the definition of epiphanies given in Ellis et al’s reading on Autoethnography ,

“remembered moments perceived to have significantly impacted the trajectory of a person’s life (BOCHNER & ELLIS, 1992; COUSER, 1997; DENZIN, 1989), times of existential crises that forced a person to attend to and analyse lived experience (ZANER, 2004), and events after which life does not seem quite the same.”

May be a bit strong considering I’m talking about watching Japanese stand up on Youtube, but the premise still rings true. I’m looking at the moments that I remember that changed what I thought about stand up in Japan.

The first epiphany I had, and I’m not sure if I even wrote about it in my first blog, is that there didn’t seem to be a lot of comedians, at least not on stage performing a stand-up routine I’m used to. I’ve learnt that the reason I couldn’t find more comedians isn’t because people just aren’t putting the videos on Youtube, or I just wasn’t looking well enough. It’s because in Japan the way for a comedian to make it big isn’t to go into stand up in the way that I’m familiar with, but to go into television. For the prime time shows in Japan it’s a necessity to have comedians on the show, either as a contestant competing in one of the many weird competitions to come out of Japanese television, or as a host. Some people claiming around 80% of the tv personalities in Japan are comedians, so with such high numbers going into TV it’s easy to see why there aren’t many acts performing stand up like I’m used to.

The second and biggest epiphany I had was that there were quite a few different types of acts, and looking into it I found there were more than I thought. There are 5 main styles of comedy that all of the acts in Japan fall roughly under, and some may be a mix of a few.

The first is Kyogen, an old form of comedy dating back to the 14th century. Kyogen is based on slapstick and satire, and performed in an outdated version of Japanese. Gamarjobat were probably the closest thing I saw to this, though they don’t speak for the most part.

The second is Manzai, which features a straight man, known as a Tsukkomi, and a funny man, known as a Boke, that quickly trade jokes. You only have to watch one Abbot and Costello bit, and you’ll understand what Manzai is. This was probably the type of act I saw the most, and its that’s probably because it’s the style that works best on stage.

Third we have Konto, and it’s really just a subgenre of Manzai. In Konto groups perform short bits that revolve around a comical story, weird situation, or strange encounter. A lot of the double acts seemed to perform in this style if it was a longer performance, rather than just a short video.

Forth we have a style that I missed the first time around, rakugo. In rakugo, the performer sits in a kimono with their legs tucked under and tells a funny story. I don’t know how I missed any of these acts the first time I was looking into Japanese stand up, probably because it’s quite unique. I watched a few after I found out about it and it’s not really like anything I’ve seen before. Even with comedians who just tell stories, rakugo is different. There also seems to be a real mix of what looks like more traditional rakugo performances and modern performances that are trying to change things up. The traditional performances were kind of like some of the really long jokes that your grandpa might tell you, where the modern ones, for lack of a better word, where just weird.

The fifth and final style is Owarai, this pretty much encompasses everything else in the modern comedy seen in Japan. Owarai acts tend to be regulars on Japanese variety shows, game shows, food segments, travel features and musical performances. From what I’ve seen this is where the majority of the comedians in Japan are going.

So here we are at the end of my analysis of my exploration of Japanese stand up. I definitely feel like I have grown in my understanding of the topic, but I don’t know if I got what I wanted. I didn’t really go into this with an agenda, I think there was part of me that wanted to find that Japanese stand up was just going to be the same as the stand-up I’m used to but only focusing on this idea I have of life in Japan that I have in my head. I’m glad I didn’t find that in the end, it would have been weird, and the stuff that I found was funny and I genuinely laughed at most of the acts I watched.

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Stand Up Comedy in Japan

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I was at a bit of a loss when deciding on a topic for my digital artefact. We were asked to try not to look at anything we were familiar with, and for me that ruled out a lot of the ideas that had come to my mind for my topic. I’m not saying I’m an expert in Asian culture or anything, far from it. I’ve just dipped my toe into more aspects of Asian culture than the average Joe. What was I going to look at then? My first idea was to look at Japanese cooking shows, I like cooking so why not. One night though, while watching a Hannibal Buress stand up special, I had an epiphany. Why don’t I look at Japanese stand-up comedy?

So I did.

 

I guess I’ll start by letting you know that I love stand up. I’ve been watching stand up since before I should have been watching stand up. The first time I can remember watching stand up is when I was about eleven or twelve, and I was watching Billy Connolly on a VHS tape that we had at home. I thought he was hysterical, and from there my love for stand-up has only gotten stronger. Now at twenty one, I probably watch five or six stand up specials a week. It is safe to say that I have watched a lot of different stand up, but never stand up from Japan.

So, it was time to find some Japanese stand up, and not really knowing where to go, I went to my old faithful Youtube. Something I quickly realised when looking through the search results, is that I had a picture of what ‘Japanese stand up’ would look like in my head, and I didn’t see it, nor could I find it. I don’t know where the image I had in my head came from, but what I expected to see was that Japanese stand up was just, the stand-up that I’m used to, but with Japanese comedians performing in Japanese, to a Japanese audience. What I found was a whole different range of stuff, so let’s look at some of it.

One of the things I saw a lot of was Japanese comedians performing stand up in English to either, a majority foreign audience in Japan, or Japanese comedians performing overseas, mostly in America. I was the most familiar with this type of routine. It followed the same formula I was used to, and besides a few little things like the use of a clip board in a routine, it was the same style of comedy that most of us would be familiar with. I didn’t feel like I was seeing ‘actual’ Japanese stand up watching these. They were admittedly funny shows, but it felt like the stand-ups I watched were just copying what they had seen other foreign comedians do.

The other type of act that made up the majority of the videos I watched was the double act. My experience with double acts in stand up is definitely not as extensive as with single performer acts, and I think I’d be right in saying the reason for this is that there just not as popular in our culture. There are certainly some great comedy duo’s in stand up, I mean even in Australia we have the likes of The Umbilical Brothers, Lano and Woodley, Sammy J and Randy, there all amazing acts. I just think there are less double acts than there are singles, but that doesn’t seem to be the case in Japan, at least from what I’ve seen.

The acts and how I watched them were all different as well. There’s one duo named Gamarjobat which seem to have done both in Japan and internationally. I’m just assuming this because a lot of their videos show them performing on different television shows from around the world. Gamarjobat remind me of The Umbilical Brothers in their routines. They don’t use their voices as much, for speech or noises, but the use of props and their bodies is very similar. The other acts were a little more foreign (please excuse the pun) to me. They did use some techniques I’d seen before like one guy playing the straight man and the other the zany/stupid/different character. Most of the double acts also seemed to use slapstick in their routines. Watching these acts, I felt like I was getting something different to what I was used to, and I think it was because I could see the audience was Japanese, it also helped that some of the acts were in Japanese, which was interesting when some of them didn’t include subtitles.

It was an interesting experience watching and then writing about Japanese stand up, reading over I feel a little slack saying one didn’t feel authentic, who am I to say that? Hopefully doing some research on the topic will help me understand a few things.

Take a Look at Yourself

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The first step in autoethnographic research is taking a look at yourself, and understanding that everything that has happened to you makes you who you are, and impacts how you see the world around you. The second step is accepting that you can’t do anything to change that.

I’m sure the majority of people that read this, (my fellow DIGC330 students) are probably a little tired of reading the definition of autoethnography given in the Ellis reading (for everyone else, click the link in my references, it presents a vastly superior explanation of what auto ethnography is), so instead I’ll give my best go at a definition. Autoethnography is an approach to the research of human cultures, in which the researcher immerses themselves in that culture, and uses self-reflection to explore their own personal experience, while linking that with other qualitative research.

My first experience with autoethnography was last year in another one of my classes, Research Practices in Media and Communication. It was love at first sight. It just made so much sense to me, as much as anyone tries to be perfectly unbiased and analytical in qualitative research, it is an impossible task as a human being. Knowing that, isn’t it better to be open in showing where your potential biases are, and more importantly challenge your own thinking.

As I was thinking about autoethnography this week, I remembered doing modern history in year 11, and my teacher consistently writing on my assignments, “You need to include blah.” (Obviously she didn’t actually say blah) I had assumed that I didn’t need to include certain information because I figured it was common knowledge. This was the first time I really thought about how people had different backgrounds, and how that impacts a person.

I’m super keen to conduct my own piece of autoethnographic research on Japanese stand-up. I absolutely love stand-up comedy. I probably watch at least three new specials a week. If I had to go on mastermind stand-up would be my specialist subject. In saying all of this though, the comedians I’ve watched are mostly from America, the UK, and Australia, so I’m curious to expand my horizons through my research on stand-up in Japan. How is it different to what I’ve already seen? What are the topics/themes? What style of comedy is predominant? How popular is it? These are all things I hope to figure out in my research.

References:

Ellis, C., Adams, T.E., and Bochner, A.P. (2011) ‘Autoethnography: An Overview’, Forum: Qualitative Social Research, 12:1.

ゴジラ

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This week I watched Ishirō Honda’s 1954 Godzilla. It was the first time I’d actually seen the film in its entirety, and I must admit I was a little disappointed with myself for not having watched it sooner. Anyway, here’s my reflection on Godzilla and the characteristics that make up the movie in the context of my cultural background.

Japanese:

I was first introduced to Japanese movies when I was probably about 10, when my Dad showed me My neighbour Totoro, and my love for Japanese film and television really took off from there. I’ve watched a lot of Japanese movies, I will admit that most of them where animated, but even then the amount of live action movies I’ve seen is still probably more than the average person. Battle Royal will continue to be one of my guilty pleasure movies for years to come. So when I was watching Godzilla I felt familiar with what I was seeing, from a cultural/social perspective.

Black and white/from the 50s:

As you’ll probably figure out reading this, I watch a lot of movies, so watching a movie in black and white wasn’t anything new to me. Some of my favourite movies (Seven Samurai, It’s a wonderful life, The Elephant man) are in black and white. My love of black and white movies probably stems from my Dad showing me a bunch of old horror movies, like The thing from another world, Invasion of the body snatchers, Nosferatu, etc. That’s part of the reason I was disappointed I hadn’t already seen it.

It is important to remember when Godzilla was made, 1954 is only nine years after the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and for the people watching the film at that time the destruction that this monster created by nuclear test bombing it must have been horrific to see. It’s easy for me to see the link between the nuclear bomb and Godzilla, but I’m sure it had nowhere near the impact it would have had on the Japanese audience at the time.

Subtitles:

You can probably guess already that I was fine with the subtitles, along with the Japanese movies that I’ve seen, I also really like kung-fu movies from China and Korea, and many European movies, and with the amount of anime I watch (#subsoverdubs) I’m pretty sure I watch something with subtitles every week.

Kaiju movie:

We’ve finally gotten there, my favourite thing about Godzilla is it’s a Kaiju movie, and not only a Kaiju movie but one of the first. I’ve seen quite a few of the 90s Godzilla remakes as well as a bunch of other original franchises, my favourite being The Host (2003). Something I noticed though is that a lot of the Godzilla remakes tend to get into the destruction faster than the 1954 Godzilla, and have maybe a little less suspense. Also the relationship to Godzilla the monster has changed since 1954, in a lot of the movies now Godzilla is seen as the protector of Japan/Earth rather than just a monster.