YIDFF 2015 Past and Future Stories of the Arab Peoples
Lebanon 1949 with kodan accompaniment
An Interview with Takarai Kinkan [Kodanshi (Storyteller)]

Arab Documentary through Kodan Storytelling

Q: You were once a volunteer for the YIDFF during your student days. And this time you will be participating in the festival as a kodanshi (traditional storyteller) . . .
(Trans: This interview was conducted before the performance.)

TK: I never imagined I would become a kodanshi in the first place, so this turn of fate is beyond anything I expected. I am hoping to present a performance that is as engrossing as possible, but in fact I have little experience with documentary or moving images that don’t have a narrative. In the old days, kodanshi used to be called liars. People would say, “Kondashi go pop, and bang out lies” or “The tales that kodanshi tell are not ‘historical facts (pronounced shi-jitsu) but ‘four facts (also pronounced shi-jitsu).’—only four out of ten are true.” In other words, kodan was considered a form of fictional storytelling. Now whether this “art of lying” and documentary will merge or clash, my chance at winning this game will depend on how successfully I dramatize reality to create an entertaining experience. For foreign audiences (who don’t understand Japanese), the rhythm (choshi) distinct to the Japanese tradition of kodan is one way to enjoy it.

Q: The kodanshi and the benshi seem similar to me. What is the difference?

TK: It’s true some benshi started their careers from storytelling. But today, the two professions are completely different. The benshi provides live narration to a movie with moving pictures. Every scene must be told through a limited number of words within the time frame of the images. In kodan, there is no image. The kodanshi uses words alone to inspire the audience’s imagination and entertain them. In our case here, I consider my storytelling an accompaniment and foil for the film. I am aware that by adding my words to the film, I am restricting what the audience might get from the film. The challenge is to balance it, making sure the film’s positive qualities are not damaged.

Q: I imagine there’s the difficulty of telling an Arab story.

TK: The Arab world is something I had no association with. The exception is The Shipwreck of the Ertuğrul, a piece about the sinking Ottoman frigate that I happen to be performing since a few years ago. This film (Lebanon 1949) may also have something to do with the Ottoman Empire, but obviously from a different perspective, so the performance will be totally different. It’s a field I know nothing about, and so it provides me with a lot to learn.

Q: How would you like the audience to experience this screening of Lebanon 1949 with kodan accompaniment?

TK: The storytelling art of kodan is something you enjoy as a live performance. A sense of oneness with those who share the space is important, and half of that is created by the audience. Audience reaction can make a difference to the show, so I am hoping for a proactive participation that will be joyful for all.

(Compiled by Hirai Mona)

Interviewer: Hirai Mona / Translator: Fujioka Asako
Photography: Nozaki Atsuko / 2015-10-06 in Tokyo