If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, then rakugo storyteller Katsura Beicho, an 86-year-old living national treasure, should feel good about himself.
But a lifelike android rakugo storyteller modeled after Beicho?
“Who on earth came up with such a crazy idea?” Beicho is quoted as saying by his eldest son, Katsura Yonedanji, 53, also a rakugo performer.
The android is being prepared to make its debut in Osaka in August at a week-long exhibition showcasing Beicho's life, the theater operator Breeze Arts Co., the robot's developer, said on May 21.
In rakugo, a traditional form of Japanese entertainment, a kimono-clad performer sits on a cushion and tells humorous and human-interest stories. Katsura Beicho is a prominent figure in the world of Osaka rakugo.
Breeze Arts said Hiroshi Ishiguro, a professor who studies intelligent robots at an Osaka University graduate school, is in charge of the development. Ishiguro, together with a playwright, once produced a drama featuring an android performer.
Breeze Arts said the android will be built in accordance with a photo of Beicho performing on stage nine years ago. The company said photos of Beicho today from various angles are also being used to make the robot. When performing, the robot, clad in Beicho’s favorite kimono, will be capable of making movements to recordings of his past performances, according to the company.
The Beicho android is expected to perform rakugo at the exhibition, which will be held at the Breeze Tower in Osaka from Aug. 1 through Aug. 9.
One very interested spectator should be Beicho himself.
“In the back of his mind, I think Beicho is looking forward to seeing the robot,” said Katsura Zakoba, a 64-year-old rakugo storyteller, who is a pupil of Beicho's.
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