Asakusa Engei Hall
Opening of Asakusa France-za (1951) (Courtesy of Toyo Kogyo K.K.)
The predecessor of Asakusa Engei Hall was Sanyu-kan, a moving picture hall (present-day movie theater), which opened at Asakusa District No. 6 in 1907. Sanyu-kan was one of the major halls where so-called "Asakusa operas" were performed in the Taisho Period, and crowded with audiences. However, the hall was closed after the Second World War in 1951, and newly-opened as "Asakusa France-za," attracting widespread popularity. Later, Asakusa France-za was enlarged, and Asakusa Engei Hall was newly established on the 4th and 5th floors. At that time, there was no comic storytellers' hall in Asakusa, so the hall was opened as a venue for Rakugo comic storytelling. Up-and-coming comic storytellers, such as Shincho Kokontei, Danshi Tatekawa and Enraku Sanyutei, cultivated their skills along with renowned professional comic storytellers, including Bunraku Katsura, Shinsho Kokontei and Ensho Sanyutei, in Asakusa Engei Hall. Toyokan and Asakusa Engei Hall have produced many leading entertainers as a hub of Japanese entertainment. Toyo Gekijo was closed in 1971, and Asakusa Engei Hall was moved to the 1st floor. Since then, the hall has attracted many audiences as a venue for Rakugo comic storytelling. Asakusa Toyokan that was renovated from Asakusa France-za opened in January 2000 has been crowded with many regular visitors, young people and tourists from abroad as an entertainment hall for comic dialogues and chats, comedy skits and magic shows.
Kiyoshi Atsumi and Keiko Mishima (1950s) (Courtesy of Toyo Kogyo K.K.)
Kiyoshi Atsumi got familiar with comic chats by Musei Tokugawa and Rakugo comic storytelling since his childhood. Later, he appeared in Asakusa France-za after performing in touring shows, and achieved fame as a comedian along with Isamu Nagato, Keiroku Seki and Hachiro Azuma. He also appeared in movies after gaining popularity on TV programs. He played Kuruma Torajiro, a leading role in "Otoko wa Tsurai yo," a Japanese film series, for 27 years.
Takeshi Kitano (center), Hisayuki Matsukura, a president of Asakusa Engei Hall (left) and staff (Courtesy of Toyo Kogyo K.K.)
Takeshi Kitano (Beat Takeshi) worked as a waiter at a jazz coffee house in Shinjuku after dropping out of an university, and then served as an apprentice under an entertainer while working as a lift boy at Asakusa France-za. He left his parents' home, and lived in an attic of Asakusa France-za, training himself as a warm-up comedian. "Two Beat," a comedy duo (half of them is Takeshi Kitano), which gained popularity for their ad-lib lines, emerged from the hall.