In Japan, on the comedy television landscape, the show "Shouten" (笑点) (literally "laugh point") is in a class by itself. Widely watched and greatly respected partly because the show employs popular hanashika (performers of the traditional comedic storytelling style of rakugo) it is celebrating its 50th year on the air. The format is simple with a host offering up a theme or template for the six hanashika to give clever, funny answers (this format is called "Ougiri"). Because of its long run each performer has assumed a certain character with running gags based on this characteristics littered throughout the show.
Well, this show know for stability with only five hosts over its run recently saddened viewers with the news that the host, Katsura Utamaru, would be retiring from the position due to various health complications that had prompted him to take time off several times in the last two years. It was doubly sad when you consider that Utamaru was the only remaining cast member to have been on the show since the very beginning. Yes, Utamaru started out as one of the hanashika taking part in the "Ougiri" game before assuming the host position in 2007. He is widely credited with creating an environment of camaraderie within the cast that translated well to audiences with hanashika playing off each other often. So, when Utamaru announced that he would be stepping down during a special live edition of the show on April 22nd it was met with a mixture of sadness and accolades.
On April 22nd, the nation (or at least a good percentage of them) tuned in to see Utamaru off and to find out who the new host would be. Although it had been rumoured that cast member Enraku had a good chance of taking the job the audience was surprised when Utamaru announced that Shunputei Shouta would be the 6th host in the program history. Although I was too surprised the choice seemed perfect. The relatively young Shouta (at 56) is a cheerful presence on the show and is certainly able to skilfully use the cast members strengths. Personally I was happy that Enraku, my favourite cast member, didn't take over as the host. I appreciate his sharp humorous jabs at politicians, a rarity on television these days. If he were to take over as host he would certainly not be in a position to continue poking fun at those in power (the format just doesn't allow it. The host generally reacts to the casts' jokes).
Now, with the new host decided, fans will tune in on the 29th to find out who will be added to the cast to take the place of Shouta (who is now host). This is far more wide open with some speculation that it could be Katsura Bunji (from the Rakugo Geijutsu Kyoukai) or a member of the Tatekawa artistic family of rakugo. The show has not had a performer from the Tatekawa artistic family for quite some years. For a hanashika, becoming a cast member of Shouten may be likened to the lottery of rakugo with the popular show making a huge difference in the performer's take home pay. Tune in to find out!