Tiger Tiger Gilletaiger!

I’d be lying if I didn’t say that I was predisposed to love anything with Nagase Tomoya in it, but I had no idea that I would enjoy his drama series “Tiger & Dragon” (タイガー&ドラゴン) as much for the fascinating world and imaginative storytelling as for his undeniable charms. I spent last week with the gruff yakuza by chance yearning to become a rakugo performer and fell in love – with the artform of rakugo.

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With a versatile cast headed by Nagase (also known as a performer in the rock/pop group TOKIO), veteran actor Nishida Toshiyuki and Okada Junichi(also rep’d by Johnny’s Entertainment and a member of the pop group V6), the viewer is taken on a ride through classic Japanese folk tales narrated by a single storyteller but vividly brought to life. Nishida, as the endebted head of the theater takes on Nagase’s yakuza as an apprentice – a young man who has never made someone smile, nor smiles himself – and arranges to teach him the comedic tales in return for payment which can then help him pay off his debt. In return, he discovers an unexpected talent in the younger man as Kotora learns to adapt the tales to the world he knows. Kotora finds in the master a mentor and father figure.

The real magic is in how the two men manage to make each telling of the story – the same tale is told twice in most episodes, first with a classic interpretation as done by the master, then with a contemporary interpretation as the yakuza relates it to the world he knows – vivid and hilarious. Cast members are woven through the stories, taking on the various personas, sometimes changing roles mid-story as a different narrator takes over. This is not for the innattentive: you have to stay alert to not miss a moment. But the payoff comes with each punchline.

There’s also a terrific opening theme song by Crazy Ken Band, appropriately enough called “Tiger & Dragon” and it’s available on iTunes. The story begins with a special movie and is followed by the 11 episode drama. If you can track it down, it is highly recommended viewing!

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