Uchouten Kazoku – 08

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One word review time is upon me again – “heartbreaking”.

Once every great, great while, an anime episode comes along that’s so perfect that I literally hate to write about it, because there’s no way I can do anything but poor homage to it with whatever I write, and that’s a best-case scenario.  But this is what I do, and honestly, it’s episodes like this that I live for as an anime fan.  They’re what keeps me connected to the medium and reminds me why I love it so much, and keeps me coming back in the hope that I’ll be so privileged as to see their like again.  So I guess I have no choice but to try.

I needed to take some time to compose myself after watching this episode of Uchouten Kazoku, because I was profoundly immersed in it from the first moment to the last.  In retrospect I think this may very well be among my ten favorite individual anime episodes of all-time, and there’s not a trace of exaggeration in that statement.  I said a couple of weeks ago that episode 6 of this show was my favorite anime episode of any new show this season – for many of the same reasons as this one – but this week’s ep surpassed it.  And I said of last week’s episode that while it lacked the enchanting, magical power of this series’ best, it “felt like a heavy-lifting, “take one for the team” episode that does the dirty work to kick the story into high gear.”  Little did I realize just how prophetic that statement would be, and how soon it would be proven true in such spectacular fashion.

In truth, I found myself on the verge of tears so many times during this episode that I lost count, to the point where it was an almost uninterrupted stream of emotion.  There are many reasons for this, not least of which is that I love Kyoto itself so dearly, and Uchouten Kazoku is so brilliant at showing off the city.  Morimi-sensei clearly has both an encyclopedic knowledge of and a deep, abiding love for Kyoto, and it shows through in all his work – but most especially here, as re-imagined through the lens of P.A. Works.  When I see a fanciful panorama of Gion Corner late at night, or Kiyomizudera, or even one of the seemingly limitless machiya townhouses in the city – so beautiful for their simplicity – that alone is enough to feel something deeply.  Kyoto is an incredibly magical place even without any overt acknowledgement of the sort of magic that’s stipulated to in this series’ mythology.

There’s obviously more to Uchouten Kazoku’s emotional resonance, much more.  I’ve come to feel over the last few weeks that despite all its fantasy trappings and deep philosophical musings, this series is plain and simply a study of love.  There’s the possessive sort of love that Yodogawa-sensei and Benten talk about so eloquently, oddly but powerfully expressed in the symbolic desire to consume that which they love.  There’s Akadama-sensei’s love of beauty, and the lustful hunger for young and beautiful women it inspires in him.  There’s the ill-fated, hopeless infatuation of the young for a mysterious and beautiful adult, as Yasaburo feels for Benten.  The tragic love of one young person for someone that loves another, expressed in both Yajirou and Kaisei.  There’s the shared love of siblings, so conflicted and complicated, and the deep and abiding adoration of a child towards the parents who gave them everything.  And there’s the love of the parent for the child, and the desire to see their happiness continue after the parent has passed from the Earth.

Of all the moments that hit me hard this week – and there were many – I think the most devastating was the farewell scene between Souichirou and Akadama-sensei.  It’s a scene full of mystery – was this a tengu seeing the spirit of a dead tanuki, about to pass into the afterlife, or did Souichirou come to Akadama before the fact in order to make his final request?  I don’t know the answer yet, but I know it was a beautiful moment, both for the selfless nature of the request Souichirou made and for Akadama’s reaction.  This hard, angry and bitter man, so vociferously disdainful of the idiocy of tanuki, was saying goodbye to a friend, one of the few he has in the world – yet another powerful form of love on display in this story, that of one old friend for another.  Warmth and open emotion isn’t Akadama’s style, but his simple declaration of what a shame it was that he and Souichirou would have to part was enough – it clearly means the world to Souichirou too, and that simple and absurd image of the old man shaking hands with the tiny, fat tanuki is one that will stay with me for a long time.

Whether it’s the intended message of Uchouten Kazoku that humans have magical fellow travelers with whom me have much in common or whether the tengu and tanuki are simply a vehicle to enlighten the human condition almost doesn’t matter, because the human condition is enlightened either way.  Call tengu and tanuki what you will, very, very few series have been able to depict pure, straightforward human emotion the way this show has.  For all its trappings this is an incredibly naturalistic experience, the dialogue sequences as effortless and emotionally accurate as any in recent memory.  Slowly, incrementally, we come to see inside each of these characters, especially the Shimogamo brothers and their mother.  Yajirou’s terrible weight of guilt and self-loathing, Yaichirou’s spirit stooped and weary from the burdens he tries to carry alone – these were on full display this week.

“When saying goodbye to this world,” Yasaburou tells us, “Our father split his blood into four.  The eldest inherited only his sense of responsibility; the second only his easygoing personality; our little brother only his innocence; as for me, I inherited only his idiocy.  What held us diverse brothers together was the love of our mother deeper than the sea, and parting with our great father.  One large departure can connect the ones left behind.”  Honestly, this is such a beautiful sentiment expressed so beautifully that even now, I can’t think of it without tearing up a little.  This is truly profound stuff, deep and personal and completely and innately true.  We are each of us alone in our journey, able to perceive the world only through our own lens.  Yet some of us are lucky enough to have others with whom we share something that binds us, as different as we are, if we choose to allow them to share our burdens.

When I speak of heartbreaking this is what I mean, and it’s not necessarily a negative term.  Yes, it’s heartbreaking to see Yajirou isolate himself, despite his father’s greatest wish being that his sons would always care for each other and be together, and for Yaichirou to finally set aside his responsibility to be the strong one and allow himself to grieve.  And certainly, it was heartbreaking to see Yasaburou’s carefree facade crack, as he finally allowed himself to feel the pain of losing the father his loved so much, and in the process the older brother he loved as well.  But beauty is heartbreaking too – and much of what makes an episode like this so profound is the simple power of the emotions on display, and the way they’re communicated through superb acting and gorgeous music and imagery.  To see Yasaburou exhale into the cool Autumn night and study the vapor, thinking of his departed father doing the same years earlier, is to be connected to something deep and elemental that we all share.  Whatever magic resides in the Kyoto this series presents every week, that is the truly magical part of Uchouten Kazoku.

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33 comments

  1. T

    Out of curiosity, do you have a list of your ten favorite anime episodes of all time somewhere?

  2. Not offhand, no. But the statement still feels right when it comes to this ep.

  3. K

    Well if you can think of them I'd love to read a thread like that.

  4. i

    'We are each of us alone in our journey'

    Let me add something to that:

    "We are each on our own path but sometimes that path runs close to the paths of others. So if we can we should reach out a hand and hold them theirs close so we are on these paths together. The time will come when our paths diverge but until that time comes let us remain as one bridge, sharing our journeys through the land of life."

    Uchouten Kazoku is to me a fantasy story that transcends the genre. I don't know how many other people would consider a fantasy but to me the medieval bloodbaths and duels between mages seems less fantastical than this little story in the backdrop of the magnificent Kyoto.

    I once wrote something on how I felt about Chihayafuru and why it became an anime that I consider closest to my heart and it is for the same reason as Uchouten Kazoku. There's almost boundless amount love that flows from both works. From the first second to the last. Love for the people, not characters, but people in them. Love for the life, not plot, but life they live. And finally love for the meaning they find in their life.

    Soichiro's story has been built up, brick by brick, since the beginning of Uchouten Kazoku and its final card acts as the most potent conclusion imaginable. A conclusion for a story should always be such, it combines all that has happened before it, transcends it and provides the final piece of purpose to the story.

    I often hate themeless stories for being nothing more than mindless entertainment of the Jersey Shore and WWE style and the reverse is true. Uchouten Kazoku is the antonym of those sorts of things. It's purposes is to tell a story that we can remember and with characters we can draw strength from. Because the characters of Uchouten Kazoku are people and all people feel the same things at one point of their lives or the other.

    Such a shame that so few people wish to give 24 minutes per week to something that provides hope rather than adrenaline or libido. But for those that remain the world appears a shade brighter and a dash better.

  5. R

    Beautifully written, Enzo. As for me, I love this and the last episodes of Uchouten. There were no mystical scenes that excite your senses, sexual Benten that lures your imagination, or philosophical controversies that challenge your critical thinking. Instead, the focus was solely on the characters, their feelings, and the theme of family, and this is what made me fall in love with the show in the first place.

    We see how each of the Shimogamos deals with the great loss differently. We know how much Yaichirou loves his brothers and family. We learn more about Yajirou and Souichirou, and we finally see the unaffected Yasaborou showing sadness. I love the bonding of the brothers and between father and sons in these two episodes, and I love seeing their mother’s deep love. Indeed, mama tanuki is one awesome single mother. It’s just beautiful to see how much she loves pushing her sons into the water — just kidding — how much she understands and trusts her sons. These two episodes breathe so much life into the characters and expand so much on the theme of family. There may be some sort of a plot, but it’s only there dabbing along to bring out the characters’ emotions — the kind of emotions that sink quietly yet deeply in your heart. Perhaps people who have experienced loss of close family member may resonate more with these two episodes, but I really like the themes around departure, letting go, sticking together, and family love that Yasaborou introspectively talked about.

    I personally don’t find Uchouten difficult or strange but very uncommon, unique, intuitional, sophisticated, and mature. To me, it’s never about any plot lines — be it how Benten became Benten, or how Soichirou died — although they are there to assist in fleshing out the characters, bringing out the story about the Eccentric Family, and touching on the themes like living life to the fullest. It may not satisfy those who love solving puzzles, and it may not give any concrete answers. It’s very character-driven that it’s more feeling than thinking — although at times you would exercise your brain to ponder on some of the themes that it brought up. The experience of the show is like visiting an ancient city, like Kyoto — I am there to indulge myself in its beauty and culture, and to enjoy the conversations with the locals hearing from their stories about the city. I can either weave the pieces of the city’s history together or get to know the people better feeling what they feel about being the descendants living in this ancient city. I am there to absorb, observe, reflect, and appreciate. To me, Uchouten is by far the best show from P.A. Works and the best show this season. It’s flawlessly written, perfectly paced, neatly woven, and beautifully drawn — it’s simply well-rounded. The show hasn’t ended yet, but I can see it becoming one of my 2013 favourites. In fact, it’s right up there with SSY and Chihayafuru, and this is how much I love Uchouten.

  6. Thank you for that lovely and heartfelt comment. Uchouten to me is so resolutely opposite from what constitutes the stock and trade of anime these days that I can only marvel at the miracle of it having been produced at all – and that gives me hope that there's still greatness in anime, no matter how much it becomes dominated by formula, too much of which demeans and insults the intelligence of the viewer.

  7. R

    Thanks, Enzo…it's really your writing that inspires and allows me to express myself.

  8. e

    Uwah T_T guys that's too much emotional onslaught.
    Even if the episode itself had not been powerful enough it had the most bizarre timing in my case. And the family bits as a consequence struck a tad too hard and a tad too close.
    As such I'll simply not comment on these – it would be hard to add anything more to what both you and Enzo have already written *applause*, without sliding into TMI – and rather go straight to the tanuki-papa and old tengu's goodbye.
    Akadama-senesi is a character I wasn't too fond of – I've come to accept the tanuki ways and the pot issue but the Benten-napping bit still rubs me the wrong way honestly – but in this week really helped rounding him up in my eyes, the bond of friendship he still cherishes helped highlighting his best side.

    A heartbreakingly beautiful episode indeed.

  9. R

    @elianthos80: am happy that you also find this episode beautiful. I'm very hooked by the family theme — perhaps I personally can relate to what the Shimogamos went through. I like that these two episodes were not delivered in a melodrama or hitting-in-your-face kind of way, and every bit of the emotions was conveyed through the characters — making it feel more memorable, real, impactful, and easy to connect with. Indeed, Akadama-sensei isn't very likable, but occasionally he can be quite cute, especially when he's with Yasaborou. Well, he's simply a grumpy old man (tengu) who is very proud of his past and identity.

    @Enzo: please allow me to say one more thing. Bear with me, as I'm quite slow and need time to process — I am still reflecting on your post! There are many themes that we can draw from Uchouten — life, death, family, etc., — but I can't stop thinking about "love" and the many forms of it that you talked about — it is as profound and moving as Uchouten this week. So, thanks! It's, indeed, very beautifully written.

  10. s

    I caught a few typos while reading this great post:

    1) They're what keeps me connected to be medium
    2) In truth, I found myself on the verge of teams so many times
    3) When a see a fanciful panorama of Gion Corner late at night,

  11. K

    I love this anime. But I'm sorry, I just can't understand. Is it just me? Do I alone feel that there is something wrong in boiling a tanuki with sentience? This show is so confusing. I was touch sure, but why do I feel so alien about it? It's like people in this anime have a blue and orange morality – and I don't get that!

    Why is Yasaburo not angry at Benten? Why is the whole concept of cooking a tanuki so accepted? Why are the humans treating this so lightly? I… I don't understand.

    TQ

  12. Honestly, I'm fine with not understanding everything. The plot is secondary here, interesting though it is – and as I said in the piece, I'm starting to see all the characters as representatives of a certain kind of love.

    Yasaburo remains one of many mysteries in this story, but I feel as if his shell showed some cracks this week. We're reminded over and over of just how much he's like Shinichirou, and I can't help but be struck by how very similar the father's reactions to his own demise were to the son's reactions in the aftermath. There's more here that we don't yet know, I won't pretend I can completely make sense of that strange acceptance of what happens, and of the tanuki's fate. But I'm fine with not knowing yet.

  13. C

    Being "boiled in a hot pot" might be a symbol for death and isn't supposed to be taken quite so literally. After all, papa Souichirou mentioned that this was 'all Tanuki's fate' much like it is human fate to die. Sometimes people's lives are cut short, they might be shot for example. Its horrible and might seem obviously 'morally wrong' and yet it happens.

    To me this show is more focused on the consequences of this hot pot reality and WOW this episode was good. Raw and beautiful emotion, characters, dialogue urghh everything was great.

    I suppose a lack of answers bothers me a bit sometimes too but mostly I think it adds to the attractive mystery and magic which makes me love the show more.

    PS: Brother Yajirou is in love with the 'much younger" Kaisei whom I assume to be similar in age to Yasaburo yet in the flashback Yasaburo appeared looking exactly as he does now. Mother Tanuki also looks terribly young.My current train of thought is that Tanuki mature quickly and don't die of natural causes/have very long lives which I could defiantly see considering the shape-shifting.

  14. M

    Tanuki don't share the same sanctity for life as humans do, nor do they concern themselves with human morality. I think that's supposed to come across as the p.o.v of these animal characters. Plain and simple.

  15. l

    I've quietly watched this series in the hopes of getting a few good episodes. I thought Episode 6 was a good highlight but this episode… this episode is why I continue watching anime year-in year-out and hoping that I get to watch such episodes. It would be hard for any anime episode to be shown this year to top this.

  16. D

    The only show I think might top this is Hunter X Hunter, tbh. Rozen maiden might come close.

  17. s

    Ah…! Your words brought me on the verge of tears again. I watched this yesterday and was waiting and waiting for your post so I could confirm and affirm what I went through watching this episode. I wasn't disappointed. Thanks, GE.

    After watching this, I now feel that I can move on. This episode finally allowed me to properly grieve the loss of the great Souichirou. The previous episodes only made me feel regretful of his death and always hoping that it really did not happen, both for the family's sake and for myself. I was in denial. But, this episode finally opened the floodgates holding my emotions and allowed the tears to come unbidden from start to finish (that BGM didn't help at all). It was such a wonderful experience and that finally I can accept the death and love this family even more and hope for a better future for everyone.

  18. K

    I think you did a wonderful job expressing the beauty of this episode, I know I couldn't do any better.

    When I was at Otakon I tried to explain why I enjoyed this series so much to other people but I had a hard time to even describe it. It is just one of those series where I feel a summary can't do it justice.

  19. R

    So what would you say is your favourite anime episode ever? I'm guessing something from Seirei no Moribito?

  20. Why do you guys keep asking the hard questions? If I had to guess how many actual episodes of anime I've watched, it's ridiculous. Thousands, obviously, but I've no clue how many. So to focus on overall favorites is obviously hard. There are at least 2-3 eps of Moribitio that'd be in the equation. Episode 47 ("Lie to Me") of Cross Game is right there. Take your pick from FLCL. About 4 eps of H x H that really stand out. Chihayafuru S1, episode 20. Episode 8 of Tsuritama. The singing cats ep of Oh! Edo Rocket.

    And that's not even trying, just off the top of my head – so it's obviously skewed in favor of shows I've watched more recently. If I ever had time I'd look at my list on Anime Planet and thing of favorite eps from my top shows, but in truth even there it'd be incomplete, because there are individual eps from show that aren' even on my overall 4.5-5 star list that would factor in, too.

  21. H

    Outta curiosity, how come pre 2000s shows rarely factor into your best of lists?

  22. H

    So…uhh, this is awkward…leaving me hanging here.

  23. I didn't even notice the question till now.

    Uhh… Bad memory? Maybe also that I wasn't really an anime fan pre-2000 so almost everything I've watched I watched after the fact, so naturally I haven't watched as many pre-2000 shows as post. I've still watched an awful lot, but not that many lately, and individual episodes don't stand out as much over time.

  24. H

    I see. I didn't get into anime seriously (that sounds weird) until 2006ish. After a while I suffered burn out with newer stuff, so rekindled my passion with vintage shows. Because of that I grew an affinity for the production values of cel animation more to shiny digital, generally speaking. It'd be interesting to hear your take on that if you're interested in that side of anime.

    Granted – Monster, Gankutusou, House of Five Leaves, Tutu and Hajime are few of the best anime out there that are from 2000s that I've seen.

  25. H

    I think by 'seriously' I mean watch up-to-date seasonal stuff from Japan. Anime was more of a novelty before then. I gotten more discerning about stuff now so burn out is less likely.

    Still, I like sitting down in front of the tv set and devouring an older show occasionally as opposed to just weekly stuff. *eyes up copy of berserk*

  26. If it makes you feel any better I remembered one pre-2000 episode that would definitely be on my top-10 list, "Cats, Girls and Spaceships" from Outlaw Star.

  27. L

    Taken from the Space Bros ep2 post:
    "It takes a really well-written series to inspire that kind of introspection in me, believe me." (http://www.lostinanime.com/2012/04/uchuu-kyoudai-02.html?showComment=1333943830437#c7933666574184282147)

    While this post may not be introspection, I don't think I've seen you write anything so beautiful (hell, almost poetic) as this post in a long, long time. Maybe my favorite city in Japan is rubbing off some of its magic on you too. :O

  28. B

    I began watching this anime out of curiosity, for something to balance out some of the darker more serious series that I'm watching this season. I loved the art and the characters, but after this episode I can see that I am guilty of taking this series much too lightly and not giving it its due.

    The emotional impact of this episode sneaked up on me. Before I knew what had happened I was crying and sobbing as Yaichirou did the same. I knew he loved his brothers, but it felt as though it was more of "duty love" than a heartfelt love. Maybe I was transferring his rigid and straight exterior and mannerisms from his dealings with others into his relationships with his individual family members as the older brother. But at that moment as he was sobbing I saw a very vulnerable brother who loves his family deeply. The presence of his mother and her expression of love and strength I think gave him the freedom to express his grief. For those moments he could just be a son mourning the loss of his father as though it were yesterday as he felt the pain of his younger brother . . .

    Wow, I'm crying again.

  29. Z

    In all honesty I enjoyed the drinking moment between the old tengu and ghost tanuki a whole lot more than anything else in the episode. Put it down to not being the overly sentimental, tenderhearted type.
    Obvious crescendo was obvious.

  30. H

    This was a nice tie up to the recent events of the story. I think the sentiments were well earned and quietly rewarding. I am curious if Akadama really saw Sou off like that. I guess this also means Yajirou can still transform?

  31. d

    I think the reason I love this series so much, is that it resonates with that my inner child that so long ago was held captive by Hayao Miyasaki's works. Each episode feels like it has that same whimsy and magic that you can find almost anywhere, yet it takes a masterful hand and eye to capture it for sharing with others.

    For a series whose main strengths are it's incredibly detailed and picturesque settings, I think the drinking scene was a marvelous example of simplicity. Of course there were small details like the bridge and walls, but the gentle fade to white made the whole environment feel so fae-like. I like what Enzo has said about this series really telling a fantasy as if a "real" story. This to me was so indicative of that; how Souichiro says "It appears I've been eaten" seems to say he's already passed, but he still has the presence to stop for a cup of wine with Akadama-sensei. The whole time, the great whiteness is in the background, like an elephant in the room saying, "you know this isn't real, you're dead and he's not". But who's to say this acts like what we, as humans, think it does? Perhaps spirits do linger on, and we're just too blind to see them, or not looking carefully enough.

  32. S

    I know reading your recaps of Uchouten Kazoku will wreck me again but here I am reading them anyway. I just finished the show and episode 8 left me a sobbing mess. I thought I was over it until I reached your episode 8 review. Oh boy. Let me just sit in the corner and cry my eyes out again.

    Anyway, I am so glad to have watched this anime and as always, it is thanks to you. I would have never heard of Uchouten Kazoku otherwise. Keep doing what you're doing, Enzo! Cheers!

  33. This episode… Definitely among my 5 favorite anime episodes of all times. Such a beauiful, terrible sadness.

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