Accepted paper:

Breaking the Fourth Wall in Edo koten rakugo


Bernhard Seidl (Vienna University)

Paper short abstract:

Rakugo has some direct actor-audience interaction within clear boundaries, but interaction ceases once the actual story starts. However, some perfomers nevertheless seem to play with breaking the Fourth Wall. This paper aims to analyze the how and why of this.

Paper long abstract:

The "breaking of the Fourth Wall" is a useful concept for describing actor-audience interaction within the boundaries of reglemented performing arts that, for the sake maintaining the illusion of a self-contained narrative, do not normally allow for such interaction. While rakugo does allow for a very direct form of actor-audience interaction within the makura (the introductory part of the rakugo performance, where the storyteller addresses his audience directly), interaction typically ceases completely once the rakugo-ka begins with the actual story: From here on, he or she is supposed to ideally spirit the audience away into a narrative without breaking immersion. However, some rakugo-ka can be observed to not adhere to this seemingly unwritten rule, sacrificing the wholeness of the narrative for a comical or dramatic effect, or even to invite the audience to join in the narration process. This paper aims to propose a typology of "immersion-breaking", and to this end, a corpus of some 50 rakugo performances by about half as many recent (from the late 2000s onwards) rakugo-ka will be analyzed. A preliminary study suggests that although not institutionalized, the breaking of the Fourth Wall is indeed employed by quite a few rakugo-ka, and in some cases may be used deliberately as an element of personal style.

panel S4b_04
Actor-Audience Relationships in Japanese Comic Storytelling (Rakugo)