Shouwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu: Sukeroku Futatabi-hen – 01

If you tell me you were expecting anything less than that, I’m going to slap you.

shouwa-genroku-2-01-1There’s anime, and then there’s Shouwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu.  It’s not like anything else in the medium, or much outside it really.  It’s just “Rakugo” – brilliant and thoughtful and powerful in a way that’s totally unique.  I can honestly say I’ve never seen an anime quite like it (if I were to pick one it would be Hyouge Mono, which is less odd than it seems – and if Deen weren’t doing this show, Bee Train would kind of make sense).  It may not sell figures at Toranoana but this show takes storytelling to a level few anime will ever even aspire to.

shouwa-genroku-2-01-2We have a kind of perfect storm with Shouwa Genroku, including a superb production from the much-maligned but suddenly trendy Deen.  Whether you call him Omata Shinichi or Hatakeyama Mamoru (I’m not even sure he knows when he rolls out of bed) this is one of the best directors nobody talks about.  Shibue Kana’a music is transportive and magical.  Kumoto Haruka’s source manga is almost startlingly literate and emotionally penetrating.  And the cast – where does one even begin with the cast?  Ishida Akira and Yamadera Kouichi were a perfect Yin and Yang in the first season, and now the second season sees the arrival of the Seki twins – two of anime’s finest actors – on center-stage.  It’s almost too good to be true (but the rest of the season mostly sucks, so there is that).

shouwa-genroku-2-01-3Shouwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu is so many things, prominent among them an epic story told on an intimate scale (which is possibly the most reliable literary formula for success there is).  It’s also a story about storytelling, which lends a particular kind of duality to the narrative.  Everyone plays a character on stage that’s a version of themselves, but one of the observations this series makesis that we’re all pretty much doing that all the time anyway.  We present ourselves as we want others to see us, on stage or off.  What ties all this together is the art of Rakugo – a peculiar kind of art that straddles the line between high and low culture in Japan the way no other traditional Japanese art form does.  And that, seemingly, looks to be a major theme of “Sukeroku Futatabi-hen”.

shouwa-genroku-2-01-4Sukeroku’s ghost remains an important character despite being long dead – which he was at the end of the first season, and ten years have passed on-screen when we pick up the story.  Yotarou has finally become a Shin’uchi – and in doing so, he asks his master for permission to take the name Sukeroku.  Yakumo (now president of the rakugo association) agrees, perhaps more easily than one might have expected.  Meanwhile Konatsu has just had a baby – a baby whose father’s identity is not made crystal clear here.  But the baby has the smiling and affable temperament of his grandfather – a temperament shared by the one who’s just taken his name.  Make of that what you will.

shouwa-genroku-2-01-5This story is such a spider web of intricate details and subplots that I can’t possibly do it justice here.  The future of rakugo is certainly one of them.  Yakumo has pressed Yotarou for three promises: don’t die before he does (he’s sick of that), learn all the plays of Yakumo and Sukeroku, and extend the life of rakugo.  Yotarou (who plays the fool as well as anyone) has remembered long after Yakumo believes he’d forgotten, but this is not a simple problem.  Like his namesake, the new Sukeroku is a forward-thinking populist storyteller – one who has very little in common with the master he idolizes, truth be told.  That master calls the writing of new rakugo “heresy”, and declares he would rather have it die than be “corrupted”.   Yet he still gives Yotarou leeway to do what he pleases – for now – and is clearly divided in his own feelings (just as he was with the first Sukeroku’s rakugo stylings).

shouwa-genroku-2-01-6Into this mix is added Higuchi-sensei (Toshihiko Seki), a writer of some renown and a lover of rakugo.  He actually appeared briefly in the first season, and he was turned down as an apprentice by Yakumo.  He too idolizes Yakumo, but disagrees about the future of rakugo – and has the eloquence to formulate another vision.  His belief is that any time an art form exists for longer than 50 years it stops belonging to the masses, and starts belonging to history – and rakugo has lasted 300 years.  There may be only one theatre left in Tokyo (and none in West Japan at all) but still, rakugo lives – and Higuchi sees in the new Sukeroku to complete what the first died before accomplishing, to modernize and popularize the art again.  “If Yakumo had taken more apprentices, rakugo would be in better shape today.” he laments to Yotarou, before uttering the most intriguing line of the episode – he calls Yakumo the “Shinigami of Rakugo”.

shouwa-genroku-2-01-7Yet another fascinating element is the relationship between Konatsu and Yotarou (and Yakumo).  Not knowing if he’s the father or not, Yotarou still presses Konatsu to marry him – and he does so not because he’s “head over heels” for her, but because he loves her as a sister. It’s an intriguing take on love, and one that makes a lot of sense – not to mention very much reflecting very much who Yotarou is as a person.  What of Yakumo?  He loves Konatsu, but every day she presents a painful reminder of the person he loved more than anyone in the world, and lost – and she loves him while still blaming him for that loss.  Yotarou’s request to return to Yakumo’s house in Kagurazaka promises to spawn a compelling emotional drama amongst that odd little family.

shouwa-genroku-2-01-9In the final analysis, perhaps Shouwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu is most alive when it’s on-stage, allowing the cast to express the full breadth of their personalities and to enrapture us in the magic of the ancient art.  Yakumo is old now, but he retains his full mastery.  He embodies everything in rakugo that’s dignified and majestic and even holy – and timeless.  The new Sukeroku is, like the old, a barely-contained vessel of pure energy. He’s everything in rakugo that’s bawdy and irreverent and populist and universal – and contemporary.  Is there room in rakugo for both its Yin and Yang – then, or now?  Shouwa Genroku‘s second season will surely, among other things, seek the answer to that question.

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12 comments

  1. Now THIS is what I call getting the anime season on the road … the heck with most everything else afaiac! Other series this season may be enjoyable and even good – but I seriously doubt any will be the level of Shouwa Rakugo.

    On the other hand, nothing wrong with being surprised, eh? Come on Winter 2017! Surprise us! ^^

  2. R

    Love the premiere…it totally lived up to the hype and brought out the greatness of the first season.

    I don’t know if Shouwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu has added a new layer to anime enjoyment or simply reminded us of what has been missed in many shows for many years — it was rightfully the best show of 2016 IMHO. I particularly love the direction of Hatakeyama Mamoru and how he breathes life into the characters — look at those fingertips, body movements, framing, lighting… I liked his direction in Rozen Maiden, but I have to say that he’s doing a much better job here.

  3. H

    Just as I expected this was absolutely stunning. I have been waiting with barely restrained enthusiasm for this because I never had a doubt that they could deliver, and boy did they ever. It’s actually even better than I thought it was going to be. I saw the opening song the other day and it simply blew me away. I do not understand why this has not been licensed by now. I anticipate this will be my favorite show of the year as the first season was for me last year. I thought the recap done via a rakugo performance was brilliance as were the performances of the cast. Yotarou is really brought to life through Tomokazu Seki’s acting skills. And of course Akira Ishida continues to amaze me with his breathtaking performance. His versatility is astounding. He was a perfect choice for Yakumo without a doubt, never slipping in his delivery. I could go on and on! I was wondering, have you ever seen a Japanese show called Tiger & Dragon? For me that is when my love for rakugo began. I’m glad that there is still appreciation for this art form today.

  4. No, a J-drama right? Have not seen it.

  5. Y

    That rakugo recap of the first season was pure brilliance.

  6. r

    Totally agreed!

  7. Brilliant start, and even if they didn’t use it this episode, have you seen the OP released on YouTube, Enzo? It’s really beautiful and the symbolism of the end segment now makes much more sense to me after hearing the “shinigami” line.

  8. ” Ishida Akira and Yamaguchi Kappei were a perfect Yin and Yang in the first season….”

    I think you meant Yamadera Kouichi.

  9. Yup, sorry.

  10. I’m thankful for this show to have a 2nd season and for it to continue to set the high bar standard for anime storytelling for 2017 as the first season did for 2016.

  11. s

    It was another incredible premiere! I thought it was just a tad too conversation-heavy and moved too quickly, even though they didn’t even insert the OP and ED. There’s not as much atmosphere as the first season premiere but I have no real complaints. The rakugo performance was captivating, the characters fascinating, and the music delightful as always. Glad this otherwise dreary anime year started off with SGRS – I have dearly missed this anime.

  12. a

    Found this on Reddit: https://www.reddit.com/r/anime/comments/5mepip

    It’s a summary of the deleted scenes in the first ep of s1. There’s ~30 min of content that was in the Yotarou-hen OVA (and included in the BD release of the series), but not the broadcast (which was already a double-length episode). Sadly, there are no subs of the OVA or BD version, so this is the next best thing.

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