While it’s obviously the work of luck rather than direction, the schedule for this season could hardly have worked out more perfectly than it has. It very much feels right to me that Shouwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu should air on consecutive days with Boku Dake ga Inai Machi. Partly that’s because both series are so sublimely good, but it’s also because they mark such contrasting styles of achieving greatness. Everything about Boku Dake is emotionally outsized and visceral – it grabs you by the heart and won’t let go. It’s emotional heat, and Shouwa Genroku is cool – a long, slow simmer rather than a roiling boil. It worms its way into your heart and your head, demanding contemplation and reflection.
As with all tragedies, there’s no mystery about what’s going to happen in this series – yet there’s mystery about how the story will get there. Boku Dake is all about suspense and uncertainty, yet there’s great tragedy in what happens along the way. I love both series in different ways, and one of the most fascinating elements of Shouwa Genroku is that all of the main cast are very flawed individuals. That makes them all the more human of course, and the pain of knowing what’s going to happen to them very real. But that doesn’t stop them from driving you crazy with their insecurities and selfishness – because in point of fact that’s what people do, even the ones we love.
There are a lot of troubling things on display in this episode. Understandable and believable yes, but troubling. If last week it was Sukeroku’s charms that started to wear thin, Kikuhiko is the most irksome in the cast this week. It’s ironic, because he’s finally achieving a success no one can dispute that he’s richly earned. He’s popular, he’s in-demand, he’s well-liked by the masters. And perhaps most importantly, he’s having fun doing rakugo – something it’s almost impossible to imagine Kiku admitting out loud.
But here’s the rub – success demands leaving things behind. And Bon, to my way of thinking, wants this too much. The most depressing moment of the episode for me came when he admitted to Shin that while he loves Miyokichi, he doesn’t love her enough to put his career at risk. Intellectually I get that – this is the work of a lifetime for him, and I’m someone who’s always believed (hello, Suna-kun) that the completeness of people shouldn’t be judged on whether they form a lifelong pairing with someone. But to hear him say it flat-out, to admit that what he really wants is to be alone – it’s still disturbing on some fundamental level.
The entire incident in Ueno Koen between Shin, Bon and Miyokichi is quite depressing in fact. What’s really striking – and telling – is that Bon isn’t angrier about catching the other two “in the act”. Perhaps part of him believes Miyo has done nothing improper (she hasn’t), but more than that I think he just doesn’t care enough to be truly upset. Indeed he’s already planning to break up with her (at least he has the decency to be ashamed of himself) because Yuurakutei has told him he mustn’t spend time with a woman like Miyokichi, but rather marry a woman of class.
Miyokichi may come off badly in some viewers’ eyes – she’s the one who “breaks up” Shin and Bon – but based on what I’ve seen so far, she’s the most blameless of the bunch. Her story is a brutal one – abandoned in Manchuria, forced into prostitution until being rescued by Yuurakutei. Her emotional scars run deep, and she’s fully expecting to be dumped by Kiku at some point (“I like the cold ones. It’s nice guys I can’t stand”). I suppose she’s likely to wind up in Sukeroku’s arms at some point very soon, and maybe she’ll be the one to take her turn in the spotlight as far as coming off badly when that happens. But right now she’s mostly a victim in all this.
That Sukeroku and Kikuhiko are breaking up seems a given at this point, but it wasn’t Miyokichi who caused it. These two are so co-dependent that it’s clear they need this to happen, but it’s still awfully sad to see in the actual event. Sukeroku should be inordinately grateful that Yuurakutei has managed to convince the masters to promote him to shin’uchi along with Kiku despite his horrendous hygiene, womanizing, disrespect and horrendous hygiene – though I doubt he will be, as he’s just about the very definition of an ingrate.
As a parting gift (the one he receives is money, naturally) Shin gives Bon his “Sukeroku” sensu – along with the story of why he’s carried it (and the name) with him for so long. This is as open as we’ve seen Shin, the farthest the facade of good humor and idiocy has receded. As usual, he sees more than he lets on – he frames the relationship to rakugo adroitly. He’ll be the one in charge of rakugo that changes to meet the demands of the audience, and Bon will be the steward of unchanging tradition. Those robes fit each of them, but what stays with me is the image of both of them and Miyokichi as they truly are – outsiders who’ve spent their lives fighting an insurmountable battle to feel accepted, forever haunted by the memory of being abandoned. Seen in that light it’s hard to muster much anger for them, only empathy.