You know the drill by now. Simple, old-fashioned storytelling about basic human emotions and economic reality. Shouwa Monogatari isn’t going to set any records for breaking new ground, but it knows what it’s good at and sticks to it. What’s more this episode did manage to dig a little deeper into the emotional soil than most of them have, and even tossed in just a hint of fantasy for a twist. Pretty tame stuff by anime standards, but practically psychedelia by this show’s standards.
You had to figure there was a story behind why Kanoko-san married that joyless lump of a husband of hers. But it took 8 episodes for the series to get around to exploring it, through the courtesy of Kouhei’s curiosity about what she could possibly have seen in him. The formula is familiar – Dad pisses all over Kouhei’s fun, canceling a planned trip to visit an Uncle in Hokkaido to concentrate on work. The older siblings are fine with it but it pretty much torpedoes Kouhei’s entire summer, and he searches in vain for a picture of his father smiling to use as leverage to bargain for the trip. That’s when Mom steps in, and decides to use the pretext to go to her elementary school reunion without her husband.
There’s lots of good mother-son bonding on the trip, featuring that most Japanese of delights the eki-ben – this time the local specialty the daruma (two-tier) bento. In Kanoko’s hometown resides her sister Sayako and parents, and that’s where mother and son stay, but Aunt Sayako teasingly plants the seed in Kouhei’s head that Kanoko might just be planning to stick around and be with Toshio, the school sweetheart she left behind for the arranged marriage her parents pressured her into. Complicating things still further is the fact that Toshio was apparently a pacifist, and if you were a pacifist in Japan during the war you were considered sub-human. The implication here is that Toshio pushed Kanoko away deliberately, knowing she’d be tarred with his shame if she stayed with him.
There’s some undeniable sentimentality to the way this all wraps up, but not overly so – there’s no declaration that loved bloomed miraculously after marriage. But Kyouhei does discover he’s horrified at the notion that his mother would leave his father (Kouhei’s sci-fi driven dream sequence as he wrestles with this possibility are about as wacky as the show has gotten), and when pressed Kanoko finally reveals the truth to him – there were three and only three pictures of his father smiling (“Was he being tickled?”), once when each of his children were born. It’s not much to fall back on, but at least speaks to a kernel of humanity deep inside all the rage and bitterness. This is the sort of marriage that was the norm in Japan in the 40’s – pre-arranged, with a father whose emotional connection to his children was expected to be minimal. I give credit to Shouwa Monogatari for presenting it with sentiment, but not romanticizing it.
This week’s casual stroll is around the mountain hamlet of Yokokawa, Gunma Prefecture, where Kanoko grew up. Once an important hub for connections over the Usui Pass – which required special locomotives to be attached to the trains in Yokokawa for the 550M climb – it’s now the terminal station on the Shin’etsu main line, as the Usui Pass crossing was made obsolete by the Nagano Shinkansen. Now a railroad museum stands as the reminder of the old locomotive circle on Yokokawa, a sleepy mountain town. Is there anything more evocative than an abandoned railroad?
Casual Stroll: “Yokokawa Station”