Shouwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu – 10

Shouwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu - 10 -8 Shouwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu - 10 -31 Shouwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu - 10 -34

In pondering another brilliant episode of Shouwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu, I can’t help but be reminded of a passage from another great tragedy – in my view the greatest among Shakespeare’s:

And all our yesterdays have lighted fools
The way to dusty death. Out, out, brief candle!
Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage
And then is heard no more. It is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
Signifying nothing.

Shouwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu - 10 -1That Shouwa Genroku is a tragedy is a subject about which I’ve already expounded at length.  And apart from the obvious shared imagery from those famous words of Macbeth, to compare any tragedy to that one is about the highest praise I can give it.  But really, in anime terms this series is the complete polar opposite of the final words of Macbeth’s speech – “Full of sound and fury, signifying nothing”.  This is a series that speaks for itself quietly and reservedly, and in doing so realizes great emotional significance.

Shouwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu - 10 -2The first of the supporting pillars of the story has passed, and it’s the one you would have expected to go first – Yuurakutei.  It seems in a certain sense Kikuhiko has already surpassed him, but for the apprentice to have an admirer grovel to be accepted as his apprentice in front of the master is an abject humiliation.  In a society obsessed with rank and protocol and a sub-culture even more obsessed with it, such things just aren’t done.  I won’t say that incident was what killed the old man – he’d really been dying a slow death for a long time – but symbolically it was obviously a crucial moment.

Shouwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu - 10 -3What really strikes me about the aftermath of Yuurakutei’s death are two lines of dialogue from Kikuhiko.  In the first, he says to himself  “Now I truly alone”, as if desolate.  And later, on-stage for the first time since Yuurakutei’s passing, he thinks “At last, this is the solitude I crave.”  For me, this summarizes the sad and complex nature of the man beautifully.  On some level Kikuhiko has always felt more at home with his own company than anyone else’s – which when you think about it makes the vocation of a rakugo storyteller a natural fit. He craves the stage to himself – yet he refuses to take on the Yakumo name, no matter how often his late master the association president entreat him to.  In this moment, with his master dead and the responsibility for his legacy not yet thrust upon Kiku’s shoulders, he’s as free as he’s ever been in his life – and part of him likes it.

Shouwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu - 10 -4That first performance is a powerful and unsettling one brilliantly delivered by Ishida Akira, as Kikuhiko chooses to tell the tale “Shinigami” about a man for whom the candle of life is burning out.  It’s a shocking choice in a way, but as Kiku says to tell a sentimental story would not be “his rakugo”.  This is a man for whom belonging is forever a mere dream, always in his own mind an outsider no matter how successful and connected he becomes.  That he doesn’t shed a tear at Yuurakutei’s funeral is not a surprise – not because he feels nothing but because that too, would not be his rakugo.    To borrow a phrase from a better-known but lesser Shakespearean tragedy, “To thine own self be true”.

Shouwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu - 10 -5The circle of the story is a long one, starting with the boy who came into Yuurakutei’s life when he was a boy, threatening to steal both his father’s affections and name through his easy brilliance.  That was the first Sukeroku, and in true Shakespearean fashion we’ve looped back to find Konatsu, the spitting image of her father, telling comic rakugo tales in a soba-ya in a Shikoku onsen town. Bon has gone there to find Shin, and in the process some kind of closure – but of course we know that will be anything but the case.  The grip of fate on the characters is strong in tragedy, and Shouwa Genroku is no exception – and its grip on the audience is nearly as unbreakable.

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13 comments

  1. f

    This show is so good. The last one with such a great yet quite direction is Mushishi. Something like this probably won’t appear again anytime soon. I wonder if the mangaka’s other works worth checking out. They are all yaoi, and yaoi generally don’t have good writing.

  2. J

    I’m not sure if anything of this ilk will appear at all. I’m sure I’ve said this before, but every single aspect of ShouwaGenroku has its own significance, and they all add up to a whole greater than the sum of its parts. The first two-thirds of this episode were brilliant, with Kikuhiko finally finding peace in what is perhaps his most desolate moment so far.

    I’m really going to miss these Saturday mornings when this and BokuMachi are finally done…

  3. h

    BL/Yaoi manga by Haruko Kumota worth checking out would be Nobara and Itoshi no Nekkoke. They are quite charming, but no way near as good as Showa Genroku Rakugo Shinju. I also recommend Asumiko Nakamura’s Doukyusei, which is getting an anime film adaptation this year. Hope this helps you out!

  4. D

    Wow. Choosing to tell “Shinigami” the day after Yuurakutei’s funeral, which could have been viewed as distasteful by some, but carrying it off like that. I don’t recall we’ve ever seen that tale in its entirety, just glimpses, but even those glimpses we saw in this episode had me gripped and chilled.
    So well performed by Ishida Akira, and so well staged by the director.

  5. T

    In response to one of the commenters there are actually really good BL out there and this author is no exception. The few that I have read by her is really well done. Now to this episode Kiku is truly an interesting character because its rare to see people like him in anime. I identify so much with him in the aspect in being happy with my own solace. He doesnt need a nuclear family to be happy and it shows. That being said whether he likes it or not people like Sukeroku will always be in his life and it seems konatsu will be no different. Family relationships are complex and I love that no matter what happens Kiku has to deal with that reality like most of us.

    In Yuurakutei case I’m happy the old man regretted throwing out Sukeroku, because it made me really sad when Sukeroku said he always thought he was a stray dog that just happened to be taken in. For Yuurakutei to acknowledge his own pettiness cost him to lose one of his precious sons was a good final step, but I wish he asked to see him again before he died. In the end these are messy people and I loved that this show doesnt sugar-coat that fact.

  6. f

    To ThatLatinxChick, which BL do you recommend? My experience with the fanbase is not….particularly postive, so I don’t know who to ask.

  7. T

    Try reading Sono Mama de

  8. e

    @fgfdfh a really good one is Hana Wa Saku Ka by Hidaka Shoko – very little ‘action’ (of the consensual and ‘realistic’ kind so to speak and SPOILER —- basically relegated to half a chapter just near the end of a whopping 30+ chapters character’s journey —- SPOILER ) , much more slice of life + character study/drama and dialogue-oriented, a dash of family mystery about the uke’s artsy parents’ death but mostly it’s about people and bonding at large (familiar love, friendship, empathy. You could remove the very little man-on-man action and you’d have a lovely slow burn bro bonding tale of deep platonic relationships) and good character design (pleasant but not overly pretty-pretty creatures of the male persuasion).
    Definitely recommend this one. In some ways it reminds both of Erased – where the mystery is a mean to different end – and of a gentler nod to KareKano after the manga shift focus more to Arima and his family in its second half :).

  9. C

    ” He doesnt need a nuclear family to be happy and it shows.”

    Well, yeah… because he was raised improperly. In the sense that nobody should be abandoned by their parents and raised by another. But that’s what happened, and I feel that’s a big part of why he prefers solitude.

  10. T

    But the thing is there are all different kinds of families that exist in this world so I’m personally happy that they are exploring that angle while yes he wasnt abandon it doesnt mean he didnt receive familial love through the folks he grew up with and was raised by. Its just so rare for me to be able to identify with a character like this on a personal level.

  11. This shows keeps getting better. Kikuhiko being a person who likes solitude was there since the beginning, but seeing him admitting it to himself was wonderful. Yurukutei the Seventh regretting losing one of his sons over his pettiness was a really touching scene. I felt bad that the old didn’t even had the guts to ask Kiku to find Sukeroku and get, at the end, a bit of peace with himself and him. Konatsu is like the second coming of Sukeroku and her (re-)introduction was pulled off masterfully.

    I can’t stop loving this show.

  12. The show has been on a real roll the past two eps. I also loved the way Kikuhiko arrived at his conclusion about solitude, I think he acknowledges on some level that he isn’t a particularly nice person, but he’s feeling better about the way he is. Next episode looks like another blockbuster as well, I’m looking forward to seeing what Kiku-san thinks of the pair when they meet.

  13. e

    Another powerful episode both in story and direction. I especially liked the framing of the hospital sequence with the teapot letting out steam while the master/father and son/apprentice also were doing figuratively so as they revealed some of their own inner pressure to each other at last.
    I think you’re right in pointing out Bon/Kiku’s delaying taking on the Yakumo title because that’s a window of freedom for him, as temporary as it is bound to be. As much as he craves his solitude it’s a temporary luxury in a transient existence. Enjoy the stage spotlight before the candles goes out…
    As much as a certain kind of solitude as soul place where you are free because you are not tied – where you can’t hurt – is ‘enjoyable’, that is. And again, agree the beauty of this is that is show the complexity and ambiguity of people. Is this solitude that what Bon needs? is that what he deserves? A reprieve from obligations, baggage, past. You are not hurt by others. You can’t hurt others. You do not miss anyone. No one can reject you. ‘alone’ the way he is depicted imho. Because you don’t really connect with anyone (anymore) beyond skin deep. But you will end up hurting someone in some ways as long as you live. It’s the nature of things. Living is interacting and sharing. You can practice in solitude and you are alone on stage but the rakugo needs an audience to exist. There are ties that bind (bound to be, bind, bonds between people.. language is a funny thing. If Enzo was reminded of the Bard I keep thinking back to the Greek concept of Ananke and of the golden net tying the cosmos together – but that also implies de facto trapping everything inside it. Whing such frame you could trace a life course in terms of every weave, overlap , knot and tangles met and made . Some called this net the unescapable binds of Necessity. One of its many incarnation was Aphrodite’s belt, one of the key of her glamour and command on every living being… aka Plato’s Eros by any other name ). And for good or bad both Kiku and us by virtue of existing are in the process of meeting the next thread in the fabric of our lives…

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