Eight years ago, Yasu Ichida was a young college student who just wanted to make others laugh.
Today, he is putting his goal into practice as an MFA candidate in theatre arts at the University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa and as the director of “The Raku-Come, RAKUGO! Show,” running this Friday and Saturday night.
“[Acting] is such a great communication tool, whether it’s magic, or rakugo, or theatre: It’s just a great way to communicate with people,” Ichida said. “I think it’s another language – like when I speak English and Japanese – performance is another language. I can communicate with kids, elders and so many people.”
Rakugo is a 300-year-old Japanese theatre form wherein a single performer sits down on a zabuton, or cushion, for the duration of the act and tells a humorous first-person story. A fan and towel are the only props used and one person portrays multiple characters by changing voices and looking in different directions. At UH Mānoa, the rakugo show is performed in English.
“... In rakugo, the rhythm is very important,” Ichida explained. “... I [tried] to transfer Japanese language rhythm into ... English, so that was a big challenge.”
Ichida has performed rakugo around Japan and the U.S. and noted a difference in the humor between Japanese and American culture.“In the United States, there’s more direct jokes and there’s more political and sexual jokes,” he said. “In Japan, it’s really subtle; you don’t directly refer to things, but you think and imagine things.”
While cast member Nicholas Murray Husted noted that rakugo is a more traditional form of humor than what is usually found in the U.S., he acknowledges similarities between the two cultures. “Humor is universal and I think that a lot of people are going to think that this rakugo is funny,” he said.
Ichida was inspired to act by the movie “Patch Adams,” which follows a medical student-turned-hospital clown who treats patients using humor. After finding out about a professional circus company in New York that hires hospital clowns with acting experience, Ichida enrolled at Minnesota State University Moorhead to study theatre art with an emphasis in acting and directing. He is now a professional magician who has toured with Disney’s Kids Summer Fun program and is working as a magician and children’s magic teacher at Waikīkī Aquarium. Upon earning his master’s degree, he hopes to become a professional culture performer who incorporates Japanese music, dance and magic into his shows.
“Kids are very honest and the first time you show them a magic trick, it’s such a magical moment that lives in their heart,” Ichida expressed. “There’s something about kids that’s really pure, and honest feelings come out, and I love that; that’s why I love performing for kids and with kids.”His enthusiasm for acting is contagious. “I love laughing and I love being around people that can make me laugh, and Yasu is definitely one of those people,” said colleague Murray Husted. “He’s always working, he’s always busy and he’s always bringing his art in what he does to everyone around him and it’s so admirable.”