Hitoshi Matsumoto: A Man Who Sold His Soul To Comedy

(This post originally appeared on the 2013 Midnight Madness blog)

Director and superstar comedian, Hitoshi Matsumoto is returning to Midnight Madness with his new film, R100.

But who is Matsumoto, you ask?

MM Programmer Colin Geddes made a video answering that very question before the premier of Dainipponjin / Big Man Japan at Midnight Madness 2007.

Matsumoto stars in, co-hosts and produces multiple variety shows on Japanese television as part of the comedy duo, Downtown, with his partner Masatoshi Hamada. In 1989, Downtown launched a popular variety show, Downtown no Gaki no Tsukai ya Arahende!! followed by a mind-boggling number of shows. (Just look here). Downtown’s Downtown no Gottsu Ee Kanji ran from 1991 to 1997 and popularized Downtown’s sketches or “kontos.”*  In 2010, Matsumoto started another sketch show, Matsumoto Hitoshi no Konto.  But as his own comedic sensibility changed and became more surreal, he began making films. As he told Indiewire in 2011:

I think that in Japan, because I’m really famous as a comedian, in a way it’s a bit difficult when I make films. They’re always seen in the background, on the side of my other activities. In other countries, I’m more appreciated as a film director, it’s not just a background thing. So it’s completely different.

Matsumoto’s first two films, Dainipponjin / Big Man Japan (2007) and Symbol (2009), premiered at Midnight Madness. And Matsumoto will always be enshrined in my heart as the man who got MM Programmer Colin Geddes to wear pajamas and a luchadore mask on stage.

Learn more about Matsumoto in Professional : Style of Work: File 143, a documentary that follows Matsumoto over six months in 2010. It has some fascinating behind the scenes look at Matsumoto’s process working with writers and other comedians and as he begins work on his third film, Saya Zamurai (2011). As the announcer states with great gravity, “What the camera captures behind the stage is the solitary fight of a man who sold his soul for comedy.” Watch it, subtitled, here.

*This glossary of terms from Japanese comedy might be useful, too.

 

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