Henry Black has a contemporary link to France. In 2010 I was surprised to receive an email from the French comedian and storyteller, Stephane Ferrandez, and his producer Sandrine Garbuglia. They so admired Henry that in 2009 they had gone to Japan to learn more about rakugo, as laureates in a residency at Villa Kujoyama in Kyoto (2009-2010). Via skype, they told me they were greatly inspired by Henry, who despite his foreign birth, had become a rakugoka on the Japanese stage more than 100 years ago.
At that point, we hatched a plan. I would go to Paris to give talks to Stephane’s audiences about Henry while Stephane would take to the stage as a modern-day French-style Henry. In 2012, with Japan Foundation funding, I visited Paris and spoke to Stephane’s audiences at Hattori Cultural Space and Fondation Sasakawa Paris about how and why Henry had adapted novels by Fortuné du Boisgobey as well as Mary Braddon and Charles Dickens for his nineteenth-century Japanese audiences.
At each event, I was amazed to see how Stephane so skilfully became Henry, narrating Tokisoba [The ‘Time-Noodle’ Con Game] and other humourous tales, in a kimono with only a fan as a prop. Stephane is a true professional.
During that tour, I also gave talks to students at Heidelberg University, Frei University in Berlin and Sheffield University. It was a thrill to be able to bring details about Henry’s adaptations of nineteenth-century European authors to the notice of twenty-first- century European audiences. Click here to read a version of my talk in French in Cipango – French Journal of Japanese Studies (2013, Vol. 20).
Stephane and Sandrine continue to channel Henry through regular comic performances of French-language rakugo at cultural festivals and venues in France and Japan. Go see these performances if you can, or sample some of Stephane here now.