Last time, I changed my point of view and introduced the story of the entertainers who were active in Shinjuku Franco-za, but from this month’s issue, I will go back to my home ground Asakusa Franco-za and continue the story. The main character of this episode is Azuma Hachiro, a comedian representing the Showa period who brings smiles to the living room and is loved by men and women of all ages. In addition to his own success, he was also loved by his comedians because of his caring and gentle personality, and he also contributed to the development of the comedy culture by focusing on the development of younger people.
How did Asakusa Geinin, who was born and raised in this area, manage to run through a wide variety of stage-like 52 years of life …?
Tohachiro (real name Giichi TODA) was born in Asakusa, 1936. My father was a security guard at our hut, and one day I brought him to see my father Ushichi because his son wanted to be a comedian. He was still an innocent boy for several years after he graduated from junior high school, but as soon as he saw him, he realized that he had a promising future. At that time, the company was named “Azuma,” one character from its name “Toyo Kogyo,” and “Hachiro,” one character added to the pen name “Shichiro Yanagida,” which my father used to write scripts. I can tell how much he was expected from this situation.
Come to think of it, it was the first time that I had ever tried to raise a boy from scratch who had never belonged to any theater company and had never been dyed in any color. In 1955, a big rookie named Azuma Hachiro was born.
Even with the president’s assurances, once you get to the starting line, all the difficulties in training are the same. He also stepped down steadily, step by step, along the path that his seniors had taken with great effort and patience, but he was very honest and sincere at heart, so he was loved by those around him, and he was blessed with many good encounters, and grew steadily.
In addition to natural predisposition, the East had another powerful advantage. After all, I was born in Asakusa and grew up feeling the air of Japan’s largest entertainment district. Operas, movies, comedies, strips, bars, and Yoshiwara were all part of the everyday landscape, unmistakably present … Growing up in that environment, he must have been filled with the essence of laughter he unknowingly picked up from his childhood.
I’ll tell you a little about the Asakusa Rokku entertainment district when he was born and raised.
Before the war, the Six Wards were very crowded with high-quality movies from home and abroad, the Asakusa Opera that dominated the theater world from the Taisho era to the early Showa era, and a light drama called Achalaka by Enoken (Enomoto Kenichi) and Roppa (Furukawa Midorinami) who appeared later.
It was burned down temporarily by the Great Tokyo Air Raid in 1945, but after the war, it recovered at a miraculous speed and showed the power of Asakusa Entertainment. From the twentieth to the first half of the thirties, new amusement facilities appeared one after another like bamboo shoots after rain, and at its peak, there were as many as 36 movie theaters and theaters. It’s hard to imagine from Asakusa today that the whole town was packed with trains and people had to scramble to get across the street. Even now, at the age of 82, I am still praised for my loud and forceful voice, which seems to be the result of my efforts in calling people into battle when I was young (laughs).
The area around the Hyotan-ike Pond, which was a symbol of Rokku, was filled with small bars just like Hoppy Street today, and people who wanted to have a glass of kasutori shochu (distilled spirit made from sake lees) after seeing a movie or a play, and people who wanted to go to Yoshiwara next to the pond were busy until just past midnight … Anyway, Asakusa Rokku Kogyo-gai at that time was a town that was full of prosperity and did not know that even a moment would be quiet.
The art of Azuma, which has grown by absorbing what we have been exposed to in such an environment in a very natural way without judging good and evil, has a unique taste that no one else can offer. It was not a type of acting skill or a strange line that made the audience wail, but it was a slapstick style of acting that made the audience jump, run around the stage freely and show the movement, so it was really fun and funny, but I was impressed that no matter what kind of idiot he did, he didn’t become thin.
Just as there are colors in the city, laughter has characteristics rooted in the local background and culture. Asakusa Comedy is characterized by pun, humanity and sexiness. In order to grasp the essence of it, the entertainers frantically study the performance of their predecessors, study by watching movies and stages, and play (Playing is also good study!). In particular, the great Asakusa comedian Enoken must have had a great influence. There were times when the figure of East, moving around the stage to the right and to the left in a comical way, suddenly overlapped Enoken. Art may be something that is passed on naturally to the next generation in this way.
I think it was a fortune for both our company and Asakusa to meet a boy who was talented enough to embody the traditional laughter of Asakusa and to raise a wonderful comedian named Tohachiro.
By the way, the time when Azuma was active in the Franceza was also a difficult time when the Rokku performances started to get in trouble. Of course, the decline of movies and light dramas as well as the recruitment of entertainers due to the spread of television was painful, but what became more serious damage was the disappearance of Yoshiwara in accordance with the Anti-Prostitution Law that went into effect on April 1, 1958. The adjacent amusement areas, Asakusa Rokku Kogyo-gai (entertainment area in Asakusa’s Rokku) and Yoshiwara seemed to be linked, so it is natural that one of them disappeared and the other weakened.
It was a thriving Franceza, but the dark clouds that began to cover the entire city cannot be overlooked. I had to take some measures for the future. Amid this trend, the French Theater underwent a major renovation in 1959 and newly built the Toyo Theater.
At that time, a cute boy who reminded me of the old East entered Toyo Kogyo. He was hired as a research student at the newly opened Oriental Theater, and he met his destiny with Azuma, who moved to the theater at the same time. Thanks to the careful guidance of the caring East, he slowly blooms … The name of this boy who is familiar as “Kinbo” is Hagimoto Kinichi. Yes, it’s Kin-chan who has become the unstoppable top star. Please look forward to your next visit!