Rakugo performers watching a Kabuki? It’s like DEEN is trying to lose money.
It’s always fascinating when a writer starts off by showing you where things are going to end up, then sets about unspooling the mystery of how they got there. It’s a high-risk narrative strategy because in the wrong hands it can be ponderous and pretentious, but in the right hands (like those of Wells and Kurosawa) the upside is self-evident.
As we’ve gotten to know the main players here, the process of trying to think one step ahead of the narrative has become a major part of the enjoyment with Shouwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu. Just what was it that led to the moment that changed everything – Sukeroku’s death – and what exactly went on in that moment? It’s been hinted that something more than friendship developed between he and Yakumo, a scenario which obviously has the potential to explain a lot of what’s to come. But those hints are thus far only that, hints.
That makes the arrival of Miyokichi onto the scene especially interesting. From the first moment we see she, Sukeroku and Kikuhiko together at the Kabukiza a new possible path appears as if a great fog has parted – it’s easy to see the entire chain of events leading from that moment to that moment in great detail, step by step. It’s the kind of thing that’s only possible in this sort of reverse-narrative story, but there’s a great sense of fate in that meeting – and it would be a tale as old as time, if Shouwa Genroku chooses to tell it.
The other great mystery in this series is that of Kikuhiko himself How is it that this awkward and overly diligent young man is going to become the leading light of the rakugo world? Sukeroku (Shin has chosen than name for himself) is forever several steps ahead of his friend (and now roommate). As Kikuhiko works as a waiter and struggles to make a living, Sukeroke drinks and enjoys the company of women (apparently with some frequency), all the while filching beer money from Kikuhiko and finding success in the rakugo world.
It’s easy to see why Sukeroku is so successful on stage, and even if it weren’t Omata-sensei reminds us with regularity by showing him in the act. It comes so easy to him, so naturally – he’s like a stick riding the current wherever it takes him and scholar reading the audience – and the moment – like a textbook. Nothing is easy for Kikuhiko, certainly not rakugo and certainly not life. It’s clear now that it’s really Sukeroku who’s much more like their master, but to his credit Yuurakutei never abandons his struggling disciple (after having cared for Yuurakutei’s wife for the entire war, the boy deserves that much).
Again, the real pleasure is in trying to guess how things will progress from here to there. Does Yuurakutei really see the seeds of greatness in Kikuhiko, or does he act based on affection and a sense of responsibility for him (perhaps even paternal love)? While it seems very likely Miyokichi is going to serve as a catalyst for turbulent times between Kiku and Sukeroku, she may also be the spark that triggers something in Kikuhiko – whatever realization he needs to find before he can find “his rakugo” and become the man he was always destined to be.