By Keisuke Uranishi / Yomiuri Shimbun Staff WriterSAKAI, Osaka — Hamaderashowa Elementary School in Sakai boasts a truly rare extracurricular activity — a manzai comic dialogue club.
Members of the club create comic stories based on topics ranging from daily school life to current events in the news, and appear at local events in which they showcase their storytelling skills.
The school’s performers recently appeared for the second straight year in the M-1 Grand Prix, a competition to determine the nation’s top young manzai comedians. Spirits are high among club members, with one saying, “We want to encourage Sakai with laughter.”
On Nov. 23, comedy company Yoshimoto Shinkigeki held a show in Minami Ward, Sakai, to commemorate the 50th anniversary of people moving into the Senboku New Town apartment complex. The pair of Mitsuki Watanabe and Hikari Matsumoto appeared onstage as the opening act. The two 11-year-old fifth graders brought an audience of about 700 to laughter with their own story featuring pop idol group Arashi.
The school’s manzai club started in 2014 at the suggestion of Chiyo Nagasawa, 56, a teacher and supervisor of the club.
Nagasawa also belongs to an amateur manzai duo called “Gottani Gekijo” that still performs. She appeared in the M-1 Grand Prix and also won a grand prize at an entertainment competition for nonprofessional performers.
“It is important to think about how to react sharply and bring the dialogue to a conclusion. You need to develop a story logically, and pairs who are out of sync won’t be able to make the audience laugh,” Nagasawa said. She added that performing manzai helps “develop thinking and communication skills.”
Currently, 21 students in the fourth and fifth grades belong to the club. To develop routines, students think up content tailored to the event where they will perform, then line up sheets of paper with keywords — for example “Christmas” or “snowball fight” — and write down related words that come to mind. They then perform the scripts in front of other members.
Stories go beyond subjects related to school life like “summer holiday” and “examinations” to include current events such as the soaring price of sanma saury fish and the remarks of politicians.
One member said, “In order to find materials for my stories, I read newspapers and watch TV news programs more often than I used to.” Another said, “I’ve developed the habit of referring to dictionaries to find the right words to convey my idea to the audience.”
Club activities take place about once per month. Students practice early in the morning or during breaks between classes.
Watanabe and Matsumoto, who have been friends since the third grade, say they also practice at their houses. “It is more difficult to memorize and perform a script than to make one,” they agreed.
The duo participated in the M-1 Grand Prix in August, competing against about 60 other groups comprised of either professionals or amateurs older than them. Although they were defeated in the first round, they received the “nice amateur award” granted to one amateur group selected by the judges, just like their senior club members did last year.
The students sometimes participate in local festivals and other events. Watanabe said, “I want to make more people laugh by performing on various stages.”
Matsumoto also displayed her eagerness, saying, “I’d like to improve my skills so that I can speed up my performance and reach the point where my words flow like rain.”