WHAT’S MANZAI?!!! PART 2

Well hello there.  Long time no see.

This is Stephen just checking in here to let you all know that I am in fact still alive and that WHAT’S MANZAI?!!! (and it’s new sequel WHAT’S MANZAI?!!! PART 2) is, as of 12 AM on April 27th, back on Netflix.

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When we shot WHAT’S MANZAI?!!! back in my manzai school days in those carefree innocent days of Spring 2016, the agency was so enamored with producing random English content that it immediately decided to go back for seconds before Part One had even begun post production.

While I’ve gone in-depth on my reservations regarding WHAT’S MANZAI?!!! before, I feel fairly confident in saying that PART TWO is a much better and more entertaining piece overall (low bar, I know) than its predecessor.  Part one, for all its faults and jumps and fits, was hastily produced with nothing but a Japanese script that I had to translate on the fly.  Part two, on the other hand, came with a team of bilingual people who worked together to translate the original Japanese script into something easier to digest for both me and hopefully the audience.

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Iruka Punch

We shot part two almost exactly two years ago right after I formed my current combi and it shows in the material we put out on the screen as a young manzai act.  (I’d also be remiss in not noting that since then Iruka Punch has largely shifted its focus from manzai to the Japanese form of sketch comedy known as conte, the audio of which you can hear here).  

In the two years since we finished filming, I’ve learned a lot and, believe me, there’s a lot about my performance in these two “documentaries” that makes me cringe.  But that’s all part of the learning process I guess.

I will just say that with WHAT’S MANZAI?!!! PART 2, I left it all out on the floor and I’m glad you all finally have the opportunity to see it.

I’ll try to post more blogs here when my schedule permits but no promises.

The Dog Days of Summer?/Early Fall?

It is hot.  It’s rather obvious but it’s still hot out.

Here in Japan, most stores switch into autumn gear almost as soon as the clock hits 12 AM on September First despite the fact the weather often fails to make the same sudden transition to cool nights and fair days.  Really, the only difference here between the “late summer” (August) and the “early autumn” (September) is all the typhoons that conveniently decided to strike the Japanese mainland this month rather than the last.  What the hell’s up with that?  (That’s a rhetorical question, you humorless meteorologist.  I don’t need an actual explanation regarding high and low pressure systems.) Continue reading

“Let’s Have Sex Under That Crying Statue!”- What I Learned From the Onsen Ordeal

So I’ve made it back from Hakone alive and in one piece (relatively speaking).  This time around, our shift corresponded with perhaps the busiest travel season of the Japanese work year.  What did that mean for the relatively underplanned and ill-prepared Mecha-Ike Onsen?  Lots and lots of guests.  Way more than we probably knew what to do with.

The first time around, back in July, daily guest numbers ranged around 1000 with the weekend occasionally bumping things up to 2500 people or so.  In August, visitor numbers jumped to somewhere around 4000 people a day, many of whom all decided to visit the newly opened Mecha-Ike Onsen right around one o’clock, meaning two or so hours of hell a day for the staff, along with another ten or so hours of “Well, now what?” Continue reading

You’re a Minor Netflix Celebrity, So Now What?

One minute you’re a broke dude who occasionally performs on stage and does menial tasks for money (aside from the whole having to hide the fact that you filmed an entire “documentary thing), the next minute your sweaty face is being shared all around the world by multiple Japanese news services, Netflix official social media outlets, and, on rare occasion, random people on the internet.  And through it all, you’re still broke.

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What’s Manzai?!!!, a documentary (using the term incredibly liberally here) meant to help introduce the west to the Japanese form of comedy largely resembling the legendary vaudeville acts of old (but don’t tell people here that), came out on Friday morning as part of Yoshimoto Kogyo’s, Japanese largest comedy conglomerate, push to internationalize for the twenty-first century.

For whatever reason, dumb luck, or somewhere in between, I somehow wound up being the star, being thrust into a project for which I was and still am completely unprepared.  Were this an actual documentary, I’d imagine that things would have gone a lot smoother and easier, but, as you can probably pick up in spots in the film, it wasn’t really that.  I’d imagine that actual documentaries don’t have scripts and countless rewrites until after the fact.  I’d imagine if they did, they wouldn’t be written completely by (very talented) Japanese screenwriters with no English skills and then dissected and re-assembled by a crew of dozens of people, none of whom have actually really worked on an English project before.

So yes, there were challenges.  Lots of challenges.  And to be completely honest, I probably could have handled a lot of the situation better.  Being tasked with, in the minds of the people in charge of this project, the introduction and explanation of an entire form of comedy to the English speaking world (and many other countries through the magic of subtitles), there were times where I simply crumbled to the pressure.  There were and still are other times where the things I was being asked to do or say completely clashed with the idea of this program being a documentary and I wound up having to play a version of myself that frankly isn’t me (unless you think that I wander around the streets of Tokyo at maximum velocity shouting about “the Japanese dream”).  This being a Japanese company, there were times where my American creative voice and ideas simply clashed with what the other people had in mind for the program.  There were compromises and, me being the hardheaded bastard I am, I didn’t necessarily take things completely in stride.

But overall, it was a great learning experience, not just in my own development as an on-screen presence but in terms of my understanding of the Japanese entertainment industry, which I’ve come to learn takes the whole getting things done perfectly and as written in the script seriously.

Which brings me to the actual release of the program.  We had actually finished filming (and dubbing) of this project two months ago but I was never actually told when the thing would drop.  Lo and behold, while I was hard at work on another undiscloseable project, the program essential dropped without my knowing with me actually finding out when I came across my own face staring back at me on my Twitter feed, a Japanese media blitz resulting in dozens of articles spewing the same rhetoric about my quest to become a manzai star.

International media?  Not so much.  Makes sense right?  Yoshimoto’s a Japanese company with a strong hold on Japanese media outlets.  America news media?  Probably not.  Any non-Japanese attention I’ve gotten in the few days since the documentary went live has largely been from friends and family and random Japanese people living in the states who apparently have nothing better to do with their lives than watch questionable documentaries about Japan.  It looks like a Tonight Show appearance isn’t in the cards.  Which is cool.  I’m not sure I’m all that ready for international attention.  Not after this.

I just wish I weren’t broke.

Follow Stephen on twitter @STEPHEN_TETSU for updates on showtimes, weird things he sees in Japan, and angry basketball rants for some reason.

So hey again.

Pretty sure that this is against my company policies but the blog system they have had me use sucks donkey testes and was obviously not meant for English so for now, it’s back to this.

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What’s changed since my last post announcing the closing of this blog?

Well, to start out, I’m a minor Netflix celebrity now.  Starting from the 30th of June, What’s Manzai?!!!, a Yoshimoto sanctioned, Yoshimoto produced “documentary” (Can’t really talk about that for obvious reasons) about Japanese comedy went live worldwide on Netflix, which is a bigger deal than my Japanese overseers seem to realize.  What’s changed for me since that point?  Well, I sleep in the nude now.  That much is happening.

I’m also completely broke right now, completely fitting that stereotype of a broke struggling comedian.  Except I’m in Japan.

I’m also writing a book sorta.  But that’s way off in the distance.

 

Anyways, I’m back for the time being until my company shits this down.  So enjoy.

Takano in Tokyo, Japan. 多賀野

Last week I found myself making a fortuitous trip to Tokyo for a quick business meeting and with time to spare over the weekend (At least, my weekend).  As anyone who has ever seen me can tell you, I enjoy eating and, while in Japan, enjoy eating ramen in particular.  And eat ramen, I did.

Since I was staying with my grandparents on the southside of Tokyo, I hit up Tabelog (the Japanese equivalent of Yelp, except on Tabelog, people don’t give one star reviews because the bus boy looked like their ex-boyfriend or five star reviews because the baby at the next table was really cute) and searched for the best ramen in the neighborhood.  This is what I found.  On Tabelog, anything above a 3.5 rating is usually pretty darn good and anything above four stars as a destination meal.  So imagine my surprise when I came across Takano, a ramen shop but a mere several kilometer walk from my grandparents’ hovel with a sterling 4.05 star rating.  My gastronomical target now in my sights, I laced up my new too-big-for-my-feet Clarks and left for an early lunch.

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So after a fifteen minute walk from my grandparent’s house, I arrived at the place twenty minutes before opening and still found a decently sizable (that’s what she said) line awaiting me.  As it turns out, waiting in line is customary here (as with any other great ramen joint in Tokyo- or the rest of Japan, for that matter).

From the outside looking in

From the outside looking in

Once I actually got inside, I found myself at one of those classic stereo-typical L-shaped counter-only Showa-poi shops with one of those maneki-neko’s waving at me from a shelf over the stove (along with a plaque noting its place in the Micheline guide).  Not exactly stunning decor but the place was clean enough and gave the impression of a place people would actually be semi-comfortable in in a sober state.  I mean, I’m not taking a chick here on a date probably ever but I’d come here with food friends on a weekend.

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After another ten minutes of waiting (this time seated), my bowl arrived.  And what did I get for my 970 yen?

In case the sodium-laden broth or pork didn't raise your cholesterol, the egg'll do you in.

In case the sodium-laden broth or pork didn’t raise your cholesterol, the egg’ll do you in.

Quintessential Tokyo-style noodles and broth (fishy and salty but not overpowering) topped with melt in your mouth slices of char siu pork and a perfectly cooked agitama flavored egg.  Worth the wait (though I still think waiting two hours is a bit much during peak hours).  I just wish I wasn’t fighting a cold when I went.  Guess I’ll have to come back again.

Rating: 4 and a half Stephens (out of five Stephens)

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Stephen’s Way Too Late New Years Resolutions: 2015 Edition!

Well, it’s been a while. I’ve certainly been neglecting this website/blog thing for a while and, for that, I apologize.  It hasn’t been a matter of me being too busy to write or really not having a lot to write about but rather a matter of me being absolutely dreadful at managing my time and my creative energies being focused elsewhere (We’ll get back to that particular point in a quick moment).

Anyways, in order to prove that I’m still alive and still care, I decided to write something, anything really, and put it up in this neglected corner of my life (another hundred bucks down the drain). So here we are, almost a month through the new year (no matter how much I keep accidentally writing 2014 on all my documents at work) and I’ve yet to publicly disclose my resolutions for the new year, something that, as we all well know, should be shouted from the internet rooftops or at the very least screamed in a drunken haze at your drinking establishment of choice, to mean anything.

Now, I’m not normally a huge proponent of these sorts of things because (a) I’m very bad at keeping promises and (b) I feel like crap at the end of the year when I review my goals and realize I fell well short of them.  That all said, this year I have a couple of things that I really want to do and, for the sake of my sanity and well-being, probably should do.

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