[From April Issue 2014]
This is the 17th year since Cyril COPPINI, born and raised in Nice, France, began his career in Japan. In October 2011, while working at the Cultural Department of the French Embassy in Japan, he made his debut as an amateur rakugo performer. He currently performs once a month at nursing homes, temples, and special cafes that put on rakugo performances.
Rakugo is a traditional form of comic storytelling that developed during the Edo period (17-19 centuries). A single performer in a kimono sits on a zabuton (a floor pillow) and acts out conversations between multiple characters by changing his voice, manner of speaking and facial expressions. Coppini started learning Japanese in high school, and while studying in a college in Matsumoto City, Nagano Prefecture, he grew to enjoy rakugo and wanted to be able to perform it himself.
However, he realized that it would be difficult to train as an apprentice to a professional rakugo performer while holding down a job. It was then that by chance he met the professional rakugo performer HAYASHIYA Someta, who said to him, “Amateurs can do it, too.” And so, he was instructed by Hayashiya for a year, and took on the name “Shiriru Kopiini” – his real name creatively written in kanji.
When introducing himself on stage, he explains his name in fluent Japanese by saying, “‘Shiri-ru’ means ‘shiri ga nagareru (flowing from the bum).’ Kopii combines the Japanese word ‘fukusha’ (copy), and ‘ni’ – the kanji for the number two.” This is greeted by roars of laughter from the crowd. Rakugo stories are typically tear jerking emotional dramas, or entertaining ghost stories, but Coppini is more skilled in the comedic form of rakugo.
For his latest performance “Becoming an Apprentice” –which centers around a Japanese sushi chef and his French apprentice – Coppini has come up with a setting that is unique to him. The exchanges between the stubborn sushi chef and the apprentice, who mixes up recently learned complex Japanese vocabulary with inappropriate slang, elicits bursts of laughter from the audience.
To bring the joy of rakugo to a wider audience, Coppini also acts as both a translator and coordinator. In France, in 2011, Coppini performed alongside SANYUTEI Ryuraku – who tours internationally in European countries such as France, Germany and Italy, where he performs in the local language – at the professional rakugo artist’s request. The following year he also held performances in Switzerland and Belgium – both French-speaking countries.
“For these past ten years I’ve been introducing French culture to the Japanese, but now it’s high time I do the reverse,” says Coppini. While kabuki and noh plays have already been introduced to France and a Japanese anime and cosplay subculture exists, “rakugo, a traditional theatrical performance which sits between these things, is not yet well known,” explains Coppini.
Coppini says that he is going to continue his activities as an amateur rakugo performer. While working at an agency that aims to promote cultural exchanges between France and Japan, he says he wants to promote rakugo in France as a Japanese performing art. Released in France this March, the rakugo themed manga “Doraku Musuko” (The Disciple of Doraku), was translated by Coppini. He will be performing rakugo at the “Avignon Festival,” the world’s largest theatrical festival, held in July. Coppini says that his dream is that “if rakugo becomes more popular and people want to study it, I’ll open my own rakugo school in France.”