Shouwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu – 06

Shouwa Genroku - 06 -10 Shouwa Genroku - 06 -35 Shouwa Genroku - 06 -40

Shouwa Genroku - 06 -7You get a little history lesson for free with every episode of Shouwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu – though I hardly think that was the beginning of the pitch to the production committee.  I have no doubt that an appreciation for Japanese history and culture is a big help in terms of enjoying this series, though not absolutely essential – as much as it’s primarily a personal story, Rakugo Shinjuu is also a fascinating look at the peculiar relationship the past and the present share in Japan (especially when it comes to art).

Shouwa Genroku - 06 -6I think the disconnect between Western anime fans and the subject matter of this series became pretty obvious when viewers started commenting about how Kikuhiko worked at a “butler cafe” a few episodes back.  While it does disturb me to think that legions of non-Japanese anime fans have such a stilted and narrow idea of what Japan is, it did make me laugh – and it made me wonder if young Japanese fans were almost as disconnected from the world of Shouwa Rakugo.  Do they know, for example, of the Taikomochi – the male geisha?  Until the mid-18th Century there were no female geisha in fact, but by the time of Kikuhiko’s youth Taikomochi had long been marginalized by their female counterparts.  This context adds an especial significance to Kikuhiko’s recollection of his boyhood in the geisha house, and the disdain the residents held for him.

Shouwa Genroku - 06 -5There’s more to this angle, though, because in a way the taikomochi were the first rakugo storytellers – that became their primary function for hundreds of years.  I’m not sure there’s any direct connection to Kikuhiko’s situation apart from an interesting kind of symmetry – the major driving factor for him is the plaintive desire to belong.  As someone who’s been an outsider for his entire life, it seems this hunger for acceptance has never left him.  The idea of the Ibasho – a place to belong – is a monstrously important concept in the Japanese consciousness.  And I think Kikuhiko’s longing to find “my rakugo” is ultimately a longing to find his ibasho at long last.

Shouwa Genroku - 06 -4As one watches this impending tragedy of a story play out, they can’t help but try and imagine what the chain of events leading up to the present is going to be.  I can really sympathize with Kikuhiko here, because Sukeroku is always ahead of hm – even in terms of understanding.  It shouldn’t be the case, because Sukeroku plays the fool and the field, and rarely seems to take life seriously.  But even in something as fundamental as understanding people he’s ahead of Kiku without really working at it, and he’s seen the course of Kiku’s rakugo before even Kiku did.

Shouwa Genroku - 06 -3Unfortunately, I see this carrying over to Miyokichi’s situation.  What will cause the rift between these men – is it a budding homosexual attraction, a fight over Miyokichi, or both?  Of the latter we can be pretty certain, and the path of it is pretty clear.  I don’t think Sukeroku loves Miyokichi and I don’t think he ever will, and I do think he loves Kikuhiko as a friend and brother at least.  But because he’s always been the one to get everything – women, friends, gigs, the essence of the situation – I sense that on some level he doesn’t like seeing Kikuhiko have something he doesn’t, even if he doesn’t want it all that badly.  And I think he may try and take it away, just to show that he can.

Shouwa Genroku - 06 -2For now, though, the focus is on Kikuhiko’s awakening as a performer – facilitated so perfectly by the play that one wonders if Sukeroku didn’t plan all this to the last detail.  That role was indeed the proof for Kiku that he has “it” – both the ability to entrance an audience, and the hunger to experience what that’s like.  His rakugo, once he finally finds it, looks a lot like the play – in fact at the next workshop he chooses to perform “Shinagawa Shinjuu”, which tells basically the same story.  We see Kikuhiko’s face in shadow as he watches Sukeroku perform his “rakugo for the people”, but the shadows recede as if they were scales falling from his eyes, and he realizes with perfect clarity what his rakugo is.  It’s “interior”, a rakugo not for the people but for himself.

Shouwa Genroku - 06 -1The irony here, of course, is that the people love this rakugo because they see the sincerity and commitment in it, as well as Kikuhiko’s talent.  This is a liberating and upbeat moment, but one can’t help but note the similarity both in title and theme between “Shinagawa Shinjuu” and this series – a synchronicity that surely cannot be coincidental.  The essence of tragedy is not surprise, but knowing the tragedy is inevitably coming and having to watch it come, helpless to prevent it – and that’s the situation Shouwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu has placed the audience in.  It’s unsettling to contemplate, but I wouldn’t want to miss a second of it.

 

 

 

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15 comments

  1. Y

    Thanks for the Japanese history lesson! It really provides a new dimension for non-Japanese anime-viewers like me (though even I am surprised that there are watchers who thought Kikuhiko works at a butler cafe -.-‘). Although this is a completely different anime from Bokumachi, both shows have me tuning in each week, dying to find out how and why things turned out the way they did. I’m hooked onto every detail that happens. I dunno if I was overanalyzing, but there was a moment during Kikuhiko’s rakugo where Miyokichi’s face changed from delight to disconcerted. I wonder if that’s the power of Kikuhiko’s rakugo. His acting is so immersive that a real geisha cannot help but relate to the story?

  2. You’re not overanalysing; I noticed that moment too. But I don’t think its because of how immersive his acting is, her expression came off to me as ominous more than anything else.

  3. I think to some degree she found it unsettling. A part of her expressed that she was also happy for him, later in the performance, if I recall, but I think she personally didn’t like it due to some other issue. I’d love to see what it is in the coming episodes.

  4. It may be that she liked the idea of Kiku as a “project” – someone she could sympathize with while feeling a little superior to. As I said last week, despite the sex I think their relationship has a more big sister vibe to it, and perhaps Myokichi doesn’t like the idea of Kiku becoming formidable and successful.

  5. D

    I suspect Miyokichi’s change of expressions suggested the story reminded her of something which had actually happened, maybe to a friend or colleague, and brought back a memory she’d rather not be reminded of.

  6. c

    My god, my poorly thought-out dumb comment went a long way Enzo – that’s real embarrasing for it to be that remarkable

  7. This was my favorite episode since episode 1. This featured my favorite rakugo performance since episode 1 too (I died at “I don’t know how to swim”), but the show finally delivered the first real taste of everything finally coming full circle. And I think we all agree that to some degree that won’t be a good thing. The history lesson was nice, but I never didn’t get the theme or the point that Kikuhiko couldn’t fine where he belonged. Even without knowing everything, good writing and characters can express distress and a message; and this series has it in spades. It’s held up as my favorite series of the season since the premiere (never shaken even by Boku Machi), and I’m only now all the more excited to see everything come together… Which ironically is just gonna make everything fall apart.

  8. J

    Not since Mad Men have I seen anything as well put together as this; in terms of composition and direction even BokuMachi is left behind. But there is an interesting contrast between these two adaptations, with this episode being mostly anime-original (from Samu@RC) whilst BokuMachi is having to cut material from the manga. Of course that could still happen here and if it does I await with great interest to see exactly what will be cut and why.

    On the subject of Miyokichi, my first thought was something personal – that somehow the tale of Shinigawa Shinjuu struck too close to home in some aspect(s). But maybe if this new found confidence is what is unsettling her, then it may also play a part in driving her into Sukeroku’s willing arms.

    Given the quality of shows we’ve been subjected to recently, it seems somewhat ridiculous that a show as good as Dimension W is a clear 3rd in the list, and for a small season. But while I enjoy that series immensely, these two are truly special and I can only be glad the industry is still willing and capable of producing them.

  9. Loving the history and beauty of this show. Thanks for your posts on this Enzo, it really helped clear a few things up for me that as a Westerner I didn’t get :)

    Btw, any chance you’ll make a bookmark icon in the future for your site? Yours is blank, sadly :(

  10. Thanks for reminding me – that’s one of the many details that slipped through with all the work to do in getting the site moved over. Corrected.

  11. Did you just make a well-told history write up in this post? Wow.

    I am not prepared to see how the relationship of these three will fall out.

  12. What a fantastic blog. I’m so happy I found you, and that you devote your time to this gem of an anime that’s apparently praised by many but watched by few. It’s my favorite currently streaming show, and there really is no competition.

    The Shinagawa Shinju story paves the way for tragedy to unfold, I believe. What would be a humorous, ironic take on the tragic and romantic lover suicide genre turned into something rather different when a real double suicide case which occurred in Shinagawa in 1903 not only showed great similarities to the rakugo’s setting and story, but was suspected to be a suicide-homicide rather than a double suicide.

    Considering all the water imagery from the OP around Miyokichi and Konatsu’s suspicion of her father’s death not being accidental, we can expect a lot of pain.

    Thank you, I will most certainly be back!

  13. Thanks for commenting! The anime will sell a couple thousand, so at least in Japan some are watching.

  14. Ah, I’m glad it’s selling in Japan. I want more shows like this one in the future. :-)

  15. Don’t know if it’s selling well enough to have that impact, but I guess we can always hope.

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