Shouwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu 2 – 12 (Fin)

Its first season shows us the past, and most of its second season showed us the present. This week is all about the future, both of the Yakumo and Sukeroku names, the families connected to them, and of rakugo itself. In all cases, that future looks bright, thanks to the inspiration of those who came before.

First, we have a Shin in his late teens or early twenties, and he’s the spitting image of his grandfather Yakumo, even though they’re not related by blood…or are they? The resemblance is uncanny, Konatsu is committed to taking the truth to the grave, as is her prerogative.

In other news, Konatsu has become the first female rakugo performer in history, which is awesome, because it’s something we know she’s always wanted to do, and she’s also very very good at it (sadly though, we don’t get to see her perform).

Interestingly, it doesn’t seem her and Yotaro’s daughter (and Shin’s little sister) Koyuki is interested in following the path the rest of her family has walked, and is content to listen to them work their craft.

As far as Shin is concerned, Yotaro, now the Ninth Generation Yakumo, is his Dad—he helped raise him, after all. That is very clear in a quiet, private scene between the two. As it’s very possible he carries both the blood of Sukeroku and Yakumo, Shin seems to strike a nice balance between their two extreme styles. And the little boy Shin we’re accustomed to comes out when his dad encourages him before one of the biggest performances of his life.

That performance is part of the grand re-opening of the Uchikutei theater, which had burned down years ago but now has been completely rebuilt (only now, no doubt, is up to code). Seeing the new Yakumo IX on the stage with his wife and son (and Master Mangatsu) is a triumphant moment, and the full crowd suggests Yotaro has succeeded in restoring rakugo from the brink it was dangling from when Yakumo VIII died.

Now it’s a more inclusive, less stodgy, and more welcoming place, without sacrificing the things that made it unique. Even Konatsu realizes she was foolish in her earlier thinking that she’d upset some kind of “harmony” by entering the world of rakugo.

It must be that much more encouraging for Matsuda, the only character to inhabit all three timelines. He’s 95 and wheelchair-bound, but seems as warm and cheerful as ever.

After Shin opens with a very good performance that demonstrates why he will be an excellent Sukeroku and/or Yakumo one day, Yotaro performs “Shinigami”, a Yakumo VIII original, as a tribute. And what do you know, the old man visits him at the climax of his performance, leading me wondering momentarily if Yotaro had been taken to the far shore himself!

Thankfully, Yotaro is fine, and he and his family and friends celebrate after the show with a flower viewing by the riverside. Matsuda mentions how he saw his master to the far shore (apparently during a near-death experience of his own back then), and Higuchi waxes poetic on Yotaro’s contributions to helping prevent rakugo from dying with Yakumo.

Yotaro, however was never concerned that rakugo would go anywhere, with or without his help. It’s too good for that. And I tend to agree: various humans can argue over whether the art of rakugo is something that must be vigilantly protected from disappearing, like tending a delicate fire.

But fires can be rebuilt and reignited, and there will always be those who want to sit in an old theater (or a newly rebuilt theater) and hear someone tell a funny, raunchy, or moving story that will transport them somewhere else. Rakugo is eternal.

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Shouwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu 2 – 11

For all the sorrow and tragedy and pain in his life, things turned out pretty well for Yakumo, AKA Bon, and as it turns out, he really did die under ideal circumstances: he died in his sleep, peacefully, painlessly, surrounded by those who loved him, listening to his grandson doing rakugo.

This episode, perhaps the finest in the entire run of the show, takes place entirely in the purgatory-like place the recently deceased go before crossing the Sanzu River to the hereafter. This requires a fare, which, big surprise, Sukeroku hasn’t been able to afford yet.

The show had always teased an interest in depicting a more fantastical world than that of the living, and in this place people can change their age at will, time is kinda hard to put a finger on. Yakumo is initially annoyed that once again Sukeroku is sponging off him, even after death, but once he’s a boy again, he quickly falls back comfortably into the very deep brotherly bond they shared.

The afterlife is suitably lush and otherworldly, but also borrows heavily from traditional Japanese aesthetics, which makes sense considering the characters we’re following. Sukeroku makes sure Yakumo understands how grateful he is for raising Konatsu.

The reunions don’t stop with Sukeroku, as Miyokichi died at the same time. While she’s cast away the “role of a woman”, she and Sukeroku are still a married couple, working together to earn fare across the river. It feels like, from their perspective, they only recently got here, just like Yakumo.

Yakumo wanted more than anything to apologize to Miyokichi for dumping her so heartlessly, but she holds no grudges in this place. In fact, she can now reflect on the mistakes she made in life, namely latching onto one person rather than rely on, and be there for, others. She’s also amused to no end by Yakumo talking like an old man, since he died as one.

The three travel together for a bit along that seemingly endless scaffolding, and Yakumo mentions the food is tasteless and unsatisfying. Sukeroku says it’s because they’re dead, but if he wants to be satisfied, he knows just the place: the very theater that burned down two episodes ago has arrived in the afterlife as well. It had a soul, after all. Even better: it’s a packed house with the biggest billing ever: All the masters of all generations…and Yakumo is on the bottom. He’s gone from grizzled old master to fresh new arrival in this place.

Sukeroku decides to warm the place up with a performance that really does seem to give flavor to the sake, meat, and onions he pretend-drinks and eats (never has his jaunty entrance theme, which Yotaro inherited, sounded better or more significant). “You can’t take this taste with you when you die!” also has new meaning. He’s still got it, in this place, which has gone back to exactly the same as it was in the old days.

There’s also a magic cushion (I’ll allow it) which brings the person from the living world the performer wants to listen the most. In Sukeroku’s case, it’s his daughter Konatsu, who appears the age she was when he and Miyokichi died. For Yakumo, it’s his grandson Shin, about the same age as his mom, and just as enthusiastic to hear Yakumo’s rakugo.

Yakumo takes the stage as his old self, but has never looked happier, beaming at his reunited family and full of energy. In a playful mood, he performs “Jugemu”, and Miyokichi and Shin “sing” along the comically long name. His story continues as the camera leaves the old, drafty, but brightly glowing theater, which slowly fades out of focus.

Yakumo then finds himself in a fine boat, packed and ready for his journey across the Sanzu. Sukeroku sees him off, and Yakumo makes him promise he and Miyokichi will join him soon, once they save up enough for their fare (the one thing he apparently can’t share with his friends, even if he wanted to). That could be a year from now, or it could be yesterday.

While en route, the ferryman reveals himself as Matsuda, who may have followed his master into death after nodding off himself, and he couldn’t be happier to be by his side again, chaffeuring him to the very gates of heaven.

It’s a fitting end to Yakumo’s story, and a achingly gorgeous episode full of joyful and tear-jerking moments, from Miyokichi first seeing Yakumo, to Konatsu hugging her mother, to Yakumo taking the stage one last time and meeting Matsuda on the boat.

The preview indicates the last episode will be an epilogue that jumps forward in time, perhaps to an older Shinnosuke with a red-haired young woman who may be his younger sister. That should be fun, even if it doesn’t come close to approaching the greatness of this, Yakumo’s farewell.