Uchouten Kazoku – 07

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Literally and figuratively, this episode of Uchouten Kazoku didn’t take flight quite as much as some have.

In some ways, this felt like the most conventional episode of Uchouten Kazoku to me.  And that’s saying something about the show in general, as it was still pretty unorthodox in terms of narrative structure, acting as a sort of montage of loosely connected scenes (this is a familiar pattern with the series so far) which lead into each in a relaxed, meandering style.  But once the plot kicked in here, it kicked in pretty hard – which I suppose was inevitable, given that we’re past the midway point already and we still have very little concrete evidence of what’s going on in this strange and enchanting world.

And what a boatload of questions we still have to chew on.  If this episode felt less magical and enchanting than any since the premiere – and I would argue it did – I think it’s because it feels like a heavy-lifting, “take one for the team” episode that does the dirty work to kick the story into high gear.  This is a dangerous time for any wistful, atmospheric show like Uchouten, as it transitions from simply being a beguiling place to spend time in and becomes something more orthodox and plot-driven.

There was certainly a share of Uchouten magic in the air, starting with the pre-open – not directly connected with the events of the episode in any obvious way – which showed Yasaburou mesmerized as he watched Benten take wing on an autumn breeze and soar above the brilliant momiji.  After that the focus turned to a character who’s been out of the spotlight for a couple of episodes, Akadama-sensei, as the first half of the episode deals mostly with the Shimogamo Brothers desperate attempts to get him to take a bath (this is accomplished, by the way, at a sento I’ve visited, Cho Ja Yu).  This segment is more akin to what we’ve come to expect from the series – naturalistic surrealism as three tanuki interact with a tengu in a public bath.  If anything, it seems to cement the notion that Akadama considers Yasaburou his favorite (just as Yasaburou’s father did, seemingly).

It’s with the arrival of Ginkaju and Kinkaju that things kick into another gear.  Those two certainly provide comic relief with every appearance, with Nishiji Shuuya and Hatakeyama Kosuke (the 16 year-old who played Nitorin in Hourou Musuko) doing superb work here – this time is mostly comes in the form of iron underpants the elder has devised as a countermeasure after Yaichirou bit them in the ass at their last encounter (they have one obvious drawback).  But the idiot brothers are also here to remind us that the election of the new top Tanuki is days away, with Yaichirou pitted against his Uncle for the job.  They’re also present to deliver their “ace in the hole”, what I would consider the first true bombshell of the series – that it was the middle “frog” brother, Yajirou, that was indirectly responsible for getting Souichirou captured and eaten by the Kin-youbi Club by joining him for a night of drinking and leaving him alone.

This is obviously a big deal in terms of plot – yet I can’t help but feel as if it’s a half-reveal, at best.  It was always clear that Yajirou must have had a darker, more concrete reason for choosing (apparently) to spend his life as a frog at the bottom of a well. But just why is it that this particular truth should be the undoing of Yaichirou’s chances in the tanuki-lection?  Is this related to Benten’s solitary nighttime crying sessions at said well?  I’m also convinced there’s more to the story in terms of what actually happened.  Akadama-sensei was conspicuously present – and silent – during Kinkaju’s entire gloating session, and while Morimi-sensei certainly isn’t bound by convention, it might not be coincidence that he was in that bath at that moment (framed rather obviously, too) and said nothing.  In fact, the Souichirou story has had an odd feeling to it from the beginning, most especially Yasaburou’s resigned tone about the subject and his seeming lack of rancor towards Benten or the other Friday Fellows (well, there’s an obvious external factor in Benten’s case).

This is obviously a very strange series in a good number of ways.  Soucihirou is one of those characters who seems very much a presence despite being dead, and I’ve sometimes wondered if this is simply a function of Uchouten Kazoku’s relaxed time structure or a hint of some deeper meaning.  More than anything, what strikes me is that much of the magic of the series seems based on not knowing the answers.  This is an immersive show, one that transports you inside its world and enchants you with strange and wonderful visions that make little sense yet somehow project an essential truthfulness.  My worry is that as we enter the final five episodes and some of those answers inevitably become known, some of the spell may wear off and Uchouten will feel just a bit less magical and special.  There’s a great deal of talent in the mix here, though, and thus every reason to hope that doesn’t come to pass.

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Uchouten Kazoku - 07 -24 Uchouten Kazoku - 07 -25 Uchouten Kazoku - 07 -27
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  1. R

    To me, this show is at its best when it shifts its focus back to the Shimogamo family, but this is heavier than I expected. We saw and felt the Shimogamo’s family love and now the pain that could run deep and hurt their bonds…how are they going to pull it through?

    Yaichirou comes off as fidgety, but he is responsible and protective of his family, and this episode lets him to shine like a true aniki. Suwabe Junichi did a fantastic job delivering the lines — Yaichirou’s feelings of pain, devastation, disbelief, and yet restraint when he questioned Yajirou came through so much that I couldn’t hold my tears. Yoshino Hiroyuki played him off perfectly with his deeply remorseful reply when the water droplets dribbled down his head, as if he’s crying.

    Uchouten is truly the gem of this season. While it feels like a slice-of-life, the way that it uses its characters to tell the story of a sophisticated comedy-drama is unparalleled. I am so drawn to the bonds that the characters share, and the story about these characters is so well-told week after week. I like how Benten flew off at the start of this episode — as if she’s coming off the center stage. I enjoy the tongue-in-cheek exchange between Akadama-sensei and Yasaboro and later the bonding between the two younger brothers. The shift from comedy to drama was nicely done. It’s also interesting how this episode links the story back to a casual remark that Yajirou made a few episodes back telling Yasaborou how he’s mad at himself for not being able to remember their father’s last word. I never expected a plot from this show but am amazed by how tightly woven the story actually is — it’s indeed omoshiroi.

  2. B

    I think this episode's best trick was how fully and well it portrayed Yaichiro's character. We were shown so many sides of him, from his respectful deference towards the professor, to his childish squabbling with his brothers, to his confident public face versus his rivals, that the final scene hit extremely hard for me. It seems his outward confidence is largely based on his absolute faith in his family, and hearing him essentially beg his brother not to have betrayed him was pretty heartbreaking. That this show can so easily balance moments of wonder and humor and sadness like this is just incredible.

  3. C

    The entire time I watched Yaichiro question Yajiro about Soichiro's death, I couldn't help replay the story from Yodogawa Sensei about how relaxed Soichiro was at the prospect of being turned into hot pot. But it's weird how it was framed like a hallucination. I feel like Yajiro is too sad and guilty about this – He's just a frog in a well that doesn't know the whole picture, and even if he had stayed with his father, what can two drunk tanuki do against whatever was powerful enough to capture the one behind the false nyoigitake incident? (impaired as he may be)- and my money's on Benten having something to do with the capture… Maybe she was in love with Soichiro? well…maybe that's pushing it, but I think there's a reason why she rose to such great heights in tengu society and why she was crying "for no reason like a child" in front of Yajiro's well. OH! tears=salty ocean=salty maybe Benten's presence is widening Yajiro's knowledge of the larger world in some way? *strokes mustache *

  4. H

    I think the rest of the tanuki are overestimating Yajirou's role in his father's 'capture', and given what we saw with Yodagawa, think that there's far more to Souichirou than 'he was careless, and Yajirou betrayed him'. Souichirou was a grown-up, and he's certainly been out drinking before, and knows the possible consequences. And I don't think it's out of the question that there was no 'capture', but rather that it was all pre-arranged.

    But I think there's also still an aspect of not understanding why on the part of the Shimogamos, and so any information is treated as something more important than it really is. And I think we really see how accepting Yasaburou is, in contrast to Yaichirou, about the things that happen in life: goodbyes, being eaten. He's very much in the attitude of "Que sera, sera", the ED title.

  5. R

    That's quite a logical speculation given what we were told about Souichirou. Besides, this show is good at dropping you hints subtly and casually for later revelation — both Yaichirou and Yasaborou did say that their father went out a lot due to his position. Well, we will find out more next week. I personally think that this is a very good episode. It not only strikes a nice balance between comedy and drama, but also — like you said — flashes out its characters further while unfolding more of its story. To be honest, I was moved…and shed tears.

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