Shouwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu – 07

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Shouwa Genroku -07 -1One of the marvelous aspects of Shouwa Genroku Rakugi Shinjuu is the way it can present a stark difference in emotional tone without reliance on huge plot twists or theatrics.  On some level, last week’s episode and this week’s bore a lot of similarities – they were both chronicles of Bon’s emerging success as a Rakugo performer, almost identically paced.  But last week’s episode left one feeling warm and upbeat, and this one rather bleak and forlorn.  That only comes from good storytelling and a depth of understanding of the characters – both on the part of the series, and the audience.

Shouwa Genroku -07 -2A couple of trends are emerging as we watch this ill-fated character dance play itself out.  It’s tempting to think of it as a romantic triangle, but I’m not sure it’s either – I believe Master Yuurakutei is directly involved too, and I don’t know that what we traditionally call “romance” is involved in any real sense.  One thing I’m noticing is that my affection for Sukeroku is starting to wear thin.  His irrepressible charm is undeniable, but with each passing episode it’s becoming less cute and more irksome – sometimes even ominous.  At some point he just needs to grow the fuck up, because what he is right now is a user – and the person he’s using the most is Kikuhiko.

Shouwa Genroku -07 -3Now let’s be clear – that there’s mutual affection between Bon and Shin is undeniable (though what kind of affection is a matter for debate).  What am I seeing in the interaction between the two?  It’s not so much lovers as an old married couple – which, frustratingly, sheds little light on whether there’s any sexual attraction involved.  It seems to me that Kiku has grown to enjoy his role as caretaker/scolder of Sukeroku on some level.  Just as Shin gets a feeling of superiority from always being the performer that’s more adored and in-demand, Bon gets a sense of superiority from the one who’s always responsible and praised by the masters.  But this is unhealthy and unsustainable – a co-dependent relationship where each man is enabling the most unhealthy habits of the other.

Shouwa Genroku -07 -4Another thing is inescapable – Kikuhiko does not love Miyokichi.  I saw something tender in their relationship last week that was genuinely touching, but it seems now as if Kiku really just wanted someone to comfort him for once.  I’m not sure who Kikuhiko loves, and whether he feels a sense of physical attraction to anyone – I’m not even certain whether he and Miyokichi have had sex.  The coldness he displays towards her this week is really stark, and it’s hard not to feel for Miyokchi – she’s been very good to Kiku (as far as we’ve been given privy to) and she deserves better.  My sense is that Kikuhiko was really spooked by her push for more closeness to him, and pushed her away as a result.

Shouwa Genroku -07 -5Clearly people are going to be hurt here – we would know that even if this weren’t a flashback.  I’m interested in knowing why Yuurakutei asked Bon about Miyokichi – it was he who was originally her companion, of course, but this interaction didn’t have the air of jealousy about it.  It’s also interesting that Yuurakutei asked Bon to accompany him on his tour, and even more so that Bon didn’t tell Shin about it until the night before his departure.  It’s not hard to imagine why of course, but their drinking session had a couple of electrically charged moments – especially when Sukeroku declared that he’d never give up the Yakumo name, even to Kikuhiko, and Kiku responded that Sukeroku had never given anyone anything.

Shouwa Genroku -07 -6Shouwa Rakugo is not easy to pin down, because real people aren’t so neatly pigeonholed as poorly-drawn fictional characters.  This cast is anything but poorly-drawn – sometimes we sympathize with them, sometimes they exasperate us.  The truth is, I don’t think the key players here really know what they want themselves for the most part, and that’s what’s leading to them hurting each other.  The one bit of certainty here seems to be Kikuhiko’s need to belong  which is why he was so moved when Yuurakutei told him he was certain Kiku’s rakugo would make people happy.  That’s a wonderful thing, but that urgent need is going to contribute to the tragedy that’s to come, that seems certain.  People are complicated, and things very rarely have only one meaning – or impact.

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10 comments

  1. D

    In some ways Kiku and Suke remind me of “The Odd Couple” – the tidy, proper one, and the slob. It’s a comparison that came to me a while ago and it’s stuck. Have to feel sorry of Miyokichi, she’s attached to Kiku, but he’s more concerned with his career.

  2. g

    The problem with adults is they’re gradually stopping to tell the truth, what they really feel. And it’s doubled with such an anxious person like Kikuhiko. That and anxious people start to think about the worst, even if the question is innocent. They think in a dramatic fashion about all these catastrophic ends, which could happen and they doubt everybody’s motives.

    It’s clear for me it’s a fault of the awkward and surprising for Kiku (he looked like a deer caught in the headlights) master’s question. No matter what conclusion he had drawn, he started to behave differently towards Miyokichi. It’s clear for me also that no matter master’s motive, if he was really curious only or even he was glad for their relationship, Kiku understood it as a loaded question.

  3. s

    What’s interesting is that this episode is 100% anime original, last week’s episode only adapted a couple of pages and was mostly anime original. There’s still 2 chapters left to finish volume 3, with the current pacing they will barely finish the flashback and hardly any time to get a glimpse of the ‘present’

    It’s sad Konatsu and Yotaro’s story is getting side-lined, the 2 OVAs adapted the whole first arc skipping and changing scenes while the episode 1 version condensed it even more. On the other hand, they are taking their sweet time and adding a lot of filler to the flashback arc. This arc is good, but after all it is just a flashback to explain why Yakumo is constantly haunted by Sukeroku’s ghost. It doesn’t help I couldn’t find myself to like Miyokichi while Konatsu is a fascinating woman you can emphatize and Yota is a character you can’t help but love

    Ranting aside, the direction remains superb and if I judge the episode by itself it was excellent.

  4. J

    I think this episode was a turning point for me. I initally assumed Miyokichi had an ulterior motive for pursuing Kiku, but now I’m convinced that she genuinely cares for him (even if her reasons are somewhat unclear). I’d been suspicious of her, but she’s obviously hurt by Kiku’s reluctance to see her. The last scene where she’s sitting alone at home, makeup still streaked with tear stains proves she wasn’t shedding alligator tears. I get the impression it’s both the first time her charm hasn’t won a man over and she’s running out of ideas.

    These characters really are fantastic. I can’t wait to see what happens, and yet I’m already cringing in preparation. Also, thanks for your posts — they’re always very thoughtful and well-written!

  5. Deleted, as I’m not sure if that’s a spoiler or not. – GE

  6. Eh? I haven’t seen the manga and these are just my thoughts with the show. Not fair.

  7. Sorry – there are times when I have to make a judgment call, and the nature of your comment was very definitive. It sounded as if you were making a statement rather than a prediction, and given the hundreds of manga spoilers I’ve had posted in comments over the years, it’s not as if it would have been unusual. Feel free to repost what you wrote now that you’ve confirmed it wasn’t a spoiler.

  8. I kinda forgot what I posted. Teehee. Thanks for the explanation anyway.

  9. I think it’s great how our view of Sukeroku begins to change. Until now, we always felt Bon’s envy of Shin-san’s carefree attitude and the ease at which everything fell into his lap. Now that Bon has found what he lacked, the perspective on Shin-san’s lifestyle has changed – this is Bon’s flashback, after all. Bon ends up apologizing for Shin-san’s transgressions repeatedly. He complains, but being the responsible one has become part of his nature, and deep down, he doesn’t hate it. This dynamic has always been a part of their relationship, but as we’re no longer looking at Shin-san through Bon’s lens of envy and frustration, Shin-san seems less of a free spirit and more like the freeloader he always was – it’s just the charm, which begins to fade.

    Every interaction between them felt like a goodbye – talking about a future we know they will not get to share. It was absolutely heartbreaking. As was Miyokichi’s pain. The way her face lightened up when she saw Bon on the street tells us a lot about how her life is going outside of their relationship. When he’s gone, what’s left? Part of why he let her into his life in the first place probably was due to him doubting everything about himself, trying to avoid further confrontation and wishing to seek some comfort. Now that he’s gained some appreciation, he pushes her away. Which is cruel, but very human. When Bon rejects her pleas for spending more time together with the welcome excuse of being too busy, we see his hand, clinging to his cane (which we know he holds on to because it gives him a sense of security), shaking from her violent and desperate embrace.

    I’m considering to stop watching, I’m not prepared for the pain to come.

    Just kidding, I could never do that, this is a fantastic series. It’s the first one I’m writing weekly reviews for on my own blog, and by some wonderful luck and coincidence, I chose one I absolutely adore and couldn’t be happier to write about.

  10. R

    I don’t like Bon in this episode — I don’t like him pushing Miyokichi aside when he no longer needed what he had been taking from her — but that just makes me love this show more. Not that I love how he treated her, but I love how real, human and complex these characters are.

    The camera work continues to shine this week…am totally loving it.

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