Shouwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu: Sukeroku Futatabi-hen – 04

Every time I think it can’t top itself, it tops itself.

Shouwa Genroku 2 - 04 -1This much I know – if 2017 sees something besides Shouwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu head the Top 10 list when it’s over, either this show will have limped to the finish line (which seems hugely unlikely) or the year will have birthed at least one more truly remarkable anime.  It’a hard to overstate just how good this series has been so far – every episode has been a cracker.  The subtlety and depth in the writing combined with Hatakeyama-sensei’s impeccable direction are a kind of perfect storm of grown-up anime storytelling.

Shouwa Genroku 2 - 04 -2Everything about this show – and this episode – is so good that you can cherry-pick whatever you want to praise.  23-minute anime eps that feel like half that are usually the realm of breathless action series, but this mature, contemplative character drama flew by in record time.  The layers just go deeper and deeper – the big addition this time around being Shinnosuke (Komatsu Mikako) having matured into a fully-fledged (well, partly-fledged – he’s only six) character in his own right.  Given everything little Shin represents in Shouwa Genroku, his active participation was always going to have a massive impact on the story.

Shouwa Genroku 2 - 04 -3There’s one thing I want to make note of, because it speaks to just how brilliant this series is at narrative.  Shin never spoke a word in the first three episodes of the season – naturally enough, as he was an infant.  But between them Hatakeyama and Kumota-sensei managed to show us exactly what sort of person he would become – just from his face, and the way others reacted to him.  Shin radiated charisma, even as a baby.  He was ready with a smile and a laugh, eagerly lapping up everything around him with curious eyes.  He was a unifying factor and a pacifying element in a very tense dynamic involving the three principals in the story.

Shouwa Genroku 2 - 04 -4Now, as Shin has grown into a walking, talking little boy, we see just how much he takes after his grandfather in every way.  He understands full well how charming he is, and in his innocent fashion he takes full advantage of it by charming the adults at the theater.  He gets free snacks, forbidden access to the green room, a lift to adult eye-level to watch the performance – and all of the adults he charms don’t mind a bit.  This is a gift – Sukeroku had it, Shinnosuke has it.  It’s a dangerous gift, as we saw with the grandfather – but with the child, it’s still an unbridled joy for those around him.

Shouwa Genroku 2 - 04 -5The agonizing pathos of this, though, is that Shin is a living and breathing reminder of what happened to his grandfather.  This can surely be hard on his mother sometimes, but the real agony is for Yakumo (for reasons we all understand). Yakumo carries a heavy burden of regret with him generally speaking, and every glimpse of Shin’s smile is surely a fusillade of mixed emotions.  But Yakumo still loves Shin, and Shin loves the man he calls “Grandfather”.  When Yakumo arrived at the green room and scolded Konatsu for bringing Shin inside, it was a tense moment – but when the old man hugged the boy and praised him for his manners, I just about lost it.  How can so much be conveyed in one brief dramatic moment – so many different emotions of such staggering depth?  That’s great drama, plain and simple.

Shouwa Genroku 2 - 04 -6Also great drama is the moment when Konatsu finally takes the stage to perform rakugo in front of an audience (albeit a tiny one – literally).  Yotarou again proves his limitless selflessness – he’s not threatened at the notion of Konatsu following him onto the stage, but relentlessly pushes her to perform even as she resists.  Kontsu loves the stage – she satisfies her jones to a certain extent by playing the shamisen for Yotarou’s performances, but every night she performs “Jugemu, Jugemu” (fans of Fullmetal Alchemist and Gintama may recognize it) for her little boy.  Yotarou (whose star has risen along with his creative voice in these intervening years) has performed it on TV to great acclaim.  It’s a rakugo beloved by children (including Shin) and it’s easy to see why.

Shouwa Genroku 2 - 04 -7On her own, Konatsu would never perform in front of an audience, even of kindergarteners.  But Yotarou is nothing if not relentless and resourceful, and after a masterful job of warming up Shinnosuke’s class, he literally pushes her on stage – and Konatsu finally has her moment in the sun.  It’s not a tough crowd, it’s true, but Konatsu clearly has the rakugo magic in her blood (as does her son).  Still, even after her triumph, she demurs firmly from performing again – out of respect for the tradition of rakugo, which is that only men perform.  Men who’ve spent long years mastering the works of writers long dead.

Shouwa Genroku 2 - 04 -8This eternal tug-of-war between past and future, at the heart of so much great drama, is never far from the surface in Shouwa Genroku.  Its tragic central figure, Kikuhiko, lives it every day in the face of his step-grandson and the belief that he’s taking rakugo with him to the grave.  Hii-sensei is as stubborn as Yotarou and relentlessly pushes for change, but Yotarou is too busy to concern himself with new works and Yakumo fiercely resists.  It seems, in a sense, that Bon is taking rakugo with him out of deference to “his” Shin – as a form of penance, and as a final tribute to Sukeroku’s genius.  Ultimately Yakumo will either come to peace with the past and allow rakugo to have a future that outlives him or he won’t, but that’s the core of the remaining story almost certainly – and just as certainly the boy who seems to have inherited Sukeroku’s soul will be a big part of it.

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9 comments

  1. Z

    For dramatic purposes Yota’s rakugo has been pretty miserable to listen to until now, but even though they didn’t focus on it, it was better this episode. I’m not sure why they decided to “tell instead of show” that development. And Konstu’s was superb. This series is such a gem. It is beautiful looking, beautiful sounding, and it tells a compelling story. Combined with the first season, it is in my top ten of all time, and if this season continues as it has started, it could potentially top the list.

  2. Really glad that Konatsu started performing again, seems like her love for rakugo as a child hasn’t died out at all. I’ll be over the moon if the story decides to take that as a central theme.

  3. Y

    Thank you for the eloquent review. I am bursting at the seams with praises after each episode in this season of Rakugo Shinjuu. I have to hand it to Kumota Haruko sensei for coming up with such an excellent story. And Hatakeyama sensei….what a divine adaptation.

  4. F

    This episode was so superb that I really can’t find the right words to describe the experience. Despite the central conflict of the drama is ever-present, this episode had a nice, upbeat atmosphere that I couldn’t help but smile through these 23 minutes.

  5. s

    Yes, just one episode of Rakugo Shinjuu alone can put entire anime series to shame. Last episode was full of tension and sakuga and mystery, while this episode is full of sweetness and joy and and self-discovery. I was smiling throughout the whole thing except during the Yakumo scenes – which I still love, especially with the two Shin’s – the little Shin and the ghost Shin at the ending. And little Shin – so small and already a full-fledged character! His charisma is a danger!

    I also love the new ED – very soothing like the first season and with beautiful natural scenery too.

  6. R

    Kobayashi Yu rocks….she totally breathes life into Konatsu’s performance. It’s so fun, energetic and magnetic — it’s like Konatsu inherited it from her father. I will have no doubt if Kobayashi-san gets the Best Actress this year.

  7. This episode just out-moed all of the moe that has and probably will be produced by anime this year. Shin was precious, Konatsu was precious, and the performance at the kindergarten was an amazingly rare example of a scene that almost made me tear up with joy.

  8. r

    Thanks for the review, Enzo. This was another wonderful episode, full with joy and tears, in what is rapidly becoming one of my favourite anime series. I am a total ignorant of rakugo history and lore, but the performance of Jugemu Jugemu reminded me of Monty Python’s sketch about Johann Gambolputty-de-von-Ausfern-schplenden-schlitter-crass-cren-bon-fried-digger-dangle-dungle-burstein-von-knacker-thrasher-apple-banger-horowitz-ticolensic-grander-knotty-spelltinkle-grandlich-grumblemeyer-spelter-wasser-kurstlich-himble-eisen-bahnwagen-guten-abend-bitte-ein-nürnburger-bratwürstel-gespurten-mitz-weimache-luber-hundsfut-gumberaber-schönendanker-kalbsfleisch-mittleraucher-von-Hautkopft of Ulm.

  9. Indeed it did – well-noted. Given how literate the Pythons are, it wouldn’t shock me if one of them (probably Terry J.) knew of the rakugo when he wrote that sketch.

    There’s a very good English-language version of Jugemu on Youtube by Katsura Sunshine, a Canadian who’s become AFAIK the only foreign-born rakugo performer officially taken on by a Japanese master.

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