Shouwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu: Sukeroku Futatabi-hen – 10

Shouwa Genroku 2 - 10 - 02Well, you know the drill by now, gentle readers.  Somehow, some way, I have to make sense of that – to try and do justice.  When a show is out where the buses don’t run like Shouwa Genroku is, it really does do a better job speaking for itself than any after-market scribbler could ever do in trying to embellish it.  But I keep trying, week after week, because this series is so damn good that it virtually demands to be talked about, and because on some level I feel like the more people talk about it, the better chance someone out there who hasn’t watched it yet will decide to give it a chance.

Shouwa Genroku 2 - 10 - 03To begin with, my apologies for being a day late with this post.  If there was ever a show about which I’d like to post on-time it would be this one, but paradoxically, I don’t think it’s right to write about it or even watch it unless you can give it your absolutely undivided attention.  I had RL conflicts this week so I waited, and I’m glad I did because – as I expected – this was an episode that was an emotional freight train even by Shouwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu standards.

Shouwa Genroku 2 - 10 - 04At this point it’d probably be fair to say that Yakumo should be seriously considered as one of the most fascinating characters in anime history.  This is an incredible web he’s at the heart of, with a dizzying array of well-written and compelling characters, but he’s certainly at the heart of it.  We’ve been on this journey with Kikuhiko for almost two seasons now, and if in fact it’s come to an end (as the last few seconds of this ep strongly suggest that it does – and that’s not all that suggests it) it represents one of the most astounding characters arcs and acting performances in anime history.

Shouwa Genroku 2 - 10 - 05That closing scene was noteworthy on so many levels, packed as it was with pathos and poetry and irony to spare.  It was also a triumph for Hatakeyama-sensei as a director, a virtual symphony of visual brilliance.  It can be said that a director’s role is to marry sound and image, and if so he does it so beautifully here – all eyes will of course be glued to Yakumo and Konatsu and with good reason, as the entire season has been building up to these moments.  But I loved Hatakeyama’s montage of street life in Tokyo just as much – of faces familiar and unfamiliar, of the turning of the hours and the seasons, of the transience of beauty and of life itself.  Time is a merciless opponent, forever undefeated – it stalks us all relentlessly, and the world continues to spin once we’re gone, the effects of our lives slowly dissipating like the ripples in still water where a pebble has been tossed.

Shouwa Genroku 2 - 10 - 06There’s much focusing on the future in this episode, which is something of a departure for Shouwa Genroku.  Given that – harsh as it is – Yakumo isn’t really a part of that, it would be fitting if indeed this where the episode where he left this Earth behind at last.  He seems to have attempted on some level to cleanse himself and rakugo from it by burning the theater, but as the old manager tells Yotarou, rakugo can be performed anywhere – anywhere there’s a storyteller and an audience to listen.

Shouwa Genroku 2 - 10 - 07This motif continues with the news that Konatsu is pregnant again – news she tries to tell Yota with hints as subtle as a dagger up the strap, but which he manages to elude until she tells him outright.  The big difference this time, of course, is that the baby is Yotarou’s – though one couldn’t possibly detect anything less than unreserved love in his feelings for Shinnosuke.  This is not the signature moment of the episode for obvious reasons, but it too is one that’s been building for a long time.  Yotarou has finally won over Konatsu’s heart with patience, persistence and simple decency, but he bears no resentment that it’s taken as long as it has.  Indeed, resentment is something Yota seems incapable of.

Shouwa Genroku 2 - 10 - 08Yotarou is a rare character in the sense that he’s someone who’s unequivocally straightforward, selfless and good, yet remains a complex and fascinating person.  He’s such a sweetheart, this guy, he really is.  The first moment that moved me to tears this week was his description of why he would never want to surpass Yakumo – in the process giving a wonderful and heartbreaking summation of the role of master and apprentice.  He also tells Hii-sensei that one should never stop looking for more things and people to love, that life can never be too full of them.  It’s so simple but it makes so much damn sense, much like Yota himself.  How much better would this world be if everyone were like him?

Shouwa Genroku 2 - 10 - 09The theme of the future certainly doesn’t leave rakugo itself behind here, either.  There are the first signs that Yota may be cracking when it comes to giving Hii-sensei’s new works a try – his resolve that he’ll never do them while Yakumo is alive is also a tacit admission that he will do them once the old man is gone – among the many loves of Yotarou’s love is rakugo, and he loves it too much to let it die.  But he also asks Hii-sensei if he has any works for women (it seems clear from the reaction that the answer is no) and this is another future-centric thread running through this episode.

Shouwa Genroku 2 - 10 - 10But then, there’s that last extended scene.  It was always going there, I suppose.  Konatsu and Kikuhiko are very complicated, there’s no question about it.  The thing is, even in her angrier moments there’s always been a tenderness to Konatsu when it comes to the old man, sometimes hard to see but always there.  She knows, I’m sure of it – I don’t know exactly what she knows and when she knew it, but I suspect she’s pieced together almost all of it long ago.  When she laments that Kikuhiko has suffered so much for her sake, I think Konatsu means more than simply his staying alive to raise her.  I think she knows the burden of truth he’s carried inside him for all these years, to protect her.

Shouwa Genroku 2 - 10 - 11Rarely has a simple “thank you” carried so much meaning – and Yakumo’s “you’re welcome” was even simpler.  It’s because these weren’t words that changed anything – they merely confirmed.  But it still matters that they were finally said – that Konatsu finally acknowledged all the pain and all the weariness Yakumo has carried with him for so long, so much of it for her sake but for rakugo’s sake, too (when he laments all the things he wished he’d done, it’s quietly heartbreaking).  It was a beautiful, shattering moment that’s been building for a long time, and it delivered on all the promise of what had come before.

Shouwa Genroku 2 - 10 - 12Let’s not lose sight of what was happening around those two.  Yotarou was performing “Nozarashi” on the radio – Konatsu’s favorite piece, and the one Yakumo performed for her (with Sukeroku’s help) on the eve of the terrible events at the inn.  And Shinnosuke showed up to recite it along with his stepfather, matching him perfectly in tone and intonation as he tossed sakura petals in the air because his grandfather had asked to see them.  The significance of this moment cannot be overstated – the third Sukeroku performing along with the boy who’s the spitting image of his birth grandfather, the second, as Yakumo and Konatasu held each other and enjoyed the performances and cherry blossoms filled the air.  It’s a perfect storm of mono no aware like you’ll rarely see in anime.

Shouwa Genroku 2 - 10 - 13We’ve been teased with the notion of Kikuhiko’s death before, but there are symbolic reasons to believe it might be for real this time.  The perfect symmetry of the above moment, for one, and the fact than Shin this time comes to Bon not as a terrifying red-eyed shinigami but the blood brother he knew.  It feels as if this was the moment – Kikuhiko finally reached an epiphany with Konatsu, and seemed to have found a peace that had eluded him since we’ve known him.  And then there’s the fact that the actors who played Shin and Bon as little boys returned to voice the preview.

Shouwa Genroku 2 - 10 - 01It’s heartbreaking if true, that we should lose him just as he finds that peace, and just as he agrees to take Konatsu on as an apprentice – which is a huge future-centric development both for her character and the entire story. But heartbreaking or no, this really does feel like the time to me.  If the first season was all about building up to the unknown known, the double-suicide of the title, this season has all been building up to the moment when Yakumo finally goes to his rest.  It has to happen for Shouwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu to be complete as a story, and it has to happen with enough time for the series to show us the rest of the cast coming to grips with it – and finding a way to embrace a future without him.  They will – time is relentless, but it’s also larger than any one of us, and the next generation forever follows in the path of those who leave them behind.

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9 comments

  1. H

    The feels from this episode are just too strong! From the moment the candle relit in the opening song I had a strong feeling that there was going to be some life-changing moments in this episode and that they would be the positive kind. Naturally nothing quite exceeded that moment between Konatsu and Kikuhiko emotionally though they certainly gave it their best shot throughout. Every moment between the characters this time was like a gift for the audience who have watched these people go through so many painful moments. But what really shone through this time was love. It has guided them along the path of their lives and all of them have suffered and been rewarded by it many times over. Konatsu announcing her pregnancy beneath the sakura and Yotaro’s tears of happiness was so heartwarming it made me tear up, but the resolution of her bitterness towards the man who raised her was what really did me in. I was so incredibly happy that she finally let go and expressed what was really in her heart while she still had the time to do so and that Kikuhiko did as well. It really felt like emotional healing, so when Kikuhiko passed away (if that is really what happened) I didn’t cry because I felt that there would be no better time for him to finally leave the world behind and go be with those he lost too soon. This show certainly is difficult to discuss in the sense that what can you really say after perfection has just been given to you? I feel really grateful that Studio Deen took this story and adapted it with so much care and attention. By this point I really do think this may be my favorite anime, and for an avid fan like myself that is really saying something :).

  2. A

    I took Konatsu being allowed to finally become an apprentice as more of a symbolic gesture on Yakumo’s part. I don’t think theses two really expected to become a regular master/apprentice team for the next, what decade? Yakumo is the gatekeeper of good, traditional rakugo, and as long as he doesn’t approve of women doing rakugo, Konatsu won’t do it. But now he has finally opened the gate for her, and knowing that he approves (and that she has her entire family’s unwavering support) is enough for her to pursue it fully. She wasn’t really asking for him to become her teacher, she was asking him to let her help preserve rakugo for the future by changing it. Yakumo has finally let go of the past and embraced the future, right before his death.
    In conclusion, Konatsu is best girl and Yakumo is best oyaji.

  3. J

    That’s the way I saw it – by taking care of her, Kikuhiko has already passed on the tricks of the trade to Konatsu, and more importantly he has done his part in keeping her love of rakugo, and her father/his best friend, as strong as it could be. The acceptance was still a significant event as it showed the ageing master fully embracing the next step in the cycle of rakugo, just as his circle was finally, peacefully, brilliantly allowed to come to an end.

    I’ll give it some time before making a definitive judgement, but at the moment I would consider this episode one of my top 5 ever, with a good chance of being the very best.

  4. O

    Hotaru > “I was so incredibly happy that she finally let go and expressed what was really in her heart while she still had the time to do so and that Kikuhiko did as well.”

    I was as very happy as well, and couldn’t help but make the parallel with of Udon no Kuni if you watched that show. (If you did you should understand what I mean by that)

  5. Indeed – nice reference.

  6. Z

    What an excellent episode. I just have to wonder with Bon passing on (if indeed that is the case, which I also feel it must be, for the same reasons Enzo stated) how much push back our younger generation is going to get with Konatsu trying to break into the rakugo world without the *public* consent of Yakumo, and Yota trying out new rakugo.

  7. Don’t forget Shinnosuke, who would close the poetic loop by becoming the fourth Sukeroku. He’s clearly both in love with and naturally gifted at rakugo. I’m not normally a fan of timeskips but I would like the opportunity to see Shin on stage performing – I think that would be a nice part of the denouement of this story.

  8. I would just like to mention that in the opening sequence this week, that there was a nice subtle touch from the director. Where the flame goes out in the prior episodes, this week showed the flame litting up instead.

  9. Yes, noted that. Also Shin’s eyes were back to brown, not red – that seems to be an OP clue as to what’s coming. The candle thing to me is just more evidence that Kikuhiko probably did pass away for real this time.

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