"Sokotsu Nagaya" (scatterbrain row house) is a classic "rakugo" comic storytelling number with an offbeat storyline. Yanagiya Kosan V (1915-2002) made this the top piece in his repertoire. The protagonist, Hachigoro, is a scatterbrain with no patience, while his neighbor and buddy, Kumagoro, is patient but just as scatterbrained.The story that unfolds around these two goofballs could belong in the theater of the absurd.
On his way home from Asakusa Kannon temple in Tokyo's Asakusa district, Hachigoro comes across a man lying dead by the roadside. Absurdly convinced that this must be Kumagoro, he decides to go fetch Kumagoro and make him ID "his own body."Hachigoro tells Kumagoro, "Hey, Kuma, you died last night." After his initial disbelief, Kumagoro begins to think Hachigoro is probably right, and agrees to go with him to claim the body.
Neither is even remotely cognizant of the glaring paradox of Kumagoro being in two places simultaneously, as well as being alive and dead. Naturally, whatever conversation they hold with local community elders goes nowhere.One might even say this is a chillingly eerie scene. But it is recounted in a way that makes everything hilarious. The art of rakugo is profound indeed.
Japan during this past year had similar communication breakdown. Supporters and opponents of highly contentious national security legislation argued entirely at cross-purposes over its constitutionality. The same could be said of the verbal warfare between the Okinawa prefectural government and the prime minister's office over the planned relocation of the U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma.Whether or not the parties concerned were scatterbrained, their verbal communication circuits were out of sync.
To return to the rakugo: In the final scene, Kumagoro lifts "his own body" to carry it home. But he becomes increasingly confused, and the punchline goes: "The fellow I'm carrying is definitely me. But then, who's this me who's carrying my dead body?"
Kumagoro finally becomes aware of the paradox. "This is the moment when the bud of reason reopens in man, the thinking reed," says Naoki Fujiyama in "Rakugo no Kuni no Seishin Bunseki" (Psychoanalysis in the country of rakugo).A new year is dawning. I pray that the thinking reed will put out a bud next year to make rational dialogue possible.