Sparks
Author: Naoki Matayoshi
Specifications: ISBN  978-4163902302
152 pages
13.6 x 18.8 cm / 5.4 x 7.5 in (WxH)
Category: Fiction
Publisher: Bungeishunju Ltd.
Tokyo, 2015
www.bunshun.co.jp/
Awards: Akutagawa Prize, 2015
Buy now: amazon.co.jp

Synopsis

Centering on two struggling comedians, this fictional work by a highly regarded performer examines the artist’s life and the nature of humor in a manner that is at once philosophical and entertaining.

Narrator Tokunaga joined the Japanese comedy world directly out of high school, and is a member of the comedy duo Supākusu (Sparks), for which he takes the lead in developing new material. The duo is one of several acts hired for side entertainment on a summer night of fireworks in the coastal hot-spring resort of Atami, but due to earlier acts running long, the pyrotechnics begin while they are still on stage, and their routine doesn’t end well. Tokunaga is tremendously impressed, however, with the poison-tongued set performed under difficult circumstances by Ahondara (Doofuses), the comedy duo that comes on next. Afterwards, Tokunaga goes drinking with Saizō Kamiya of the latter duo and asks to become his disciple. Kamiya agrees on condition that Tokunaga will write his life story. At this point, Kamiya is 24 and Tokunaga is 20. The story then follows the master-and-disciple relationship of the two over the next ten years.

Thanks in part to healthy competition from younger comedians affiliated with their talent agency, Sparks’s notoriety grows in small steps, but the more avant-garde humor of Kamiya’s duo fails to catch on. For a time Kamiya lives off his girlfriend’s largesse, but she kicks him out when she finds a new boyfriend, and things begin going from bad to worse for him. His career remains stagnant, and his debts mount. Meanwhile, the other half of the Sparks duo, Yamashita, tells Tokunaga that he wants out: his live-in girlfriend is pregnant with twins, so they’ve tied the knot at city hall and he intends to find stable employment to support a family. Informing their agency that they are calling it quits, Sparks put their all into a farewell performance. Kamiya is in the audience. Shortly afterwards Tokunaga meets with Kamiya to tell him, apologetically, that he’s leaving the business altogether, and he eventually settles into a job at a real-estate agency. With his debts now out of control, Kamiya disappears for a time; when he returns, his talent agency will no longer have him back. When Tokunaga finally sees Kamiya again, he discovers that his former mentor has fallen to the level of acquiring a pair of massive silicone breasts?all in a misguided attempt to get a laugh.

Believing he was born a comedian and unable to see himself as anything else, Kamiya’s uncompromising faith in his own style of humor and single-minded determination to innovate ultimately steer his life down the sad trajectory so vividly described through Tokunaga’s eyes. Author Naoki Matayoshi colors the narrative with perspectives and nuances that only a working comedian who has stood on stage in front of an audience could bring, creating a debut work filled with both fascinating insights and thrills.