Shouwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu 2 – 02

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Yotarou gets what he wants: the whole family under one roof (a trial period, at least). But he also gets something he doesn’t: a scandal related to the very old news that he once had yakuza ties. The timing couldn’t be worse: Yotarou is already out of sorts due to the pressures of family he put on himself and the burden of having to innovate beyond Yakumo’s rakugo.

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As for Konatsu, she sometimes feels she’s taking care of three children, not just her own. Yotarou means well but he’ll have to deliver or the trial period ends with his expulsion from the house. And when the baby barges into Yakumo’s room while he’s playing music, it’s Yakumo who throws a mini-tantrum with his inimitable Yakumo pissiness.

When he tries to pawn the kid off on Konatsu, he finds her sleeping, with tears streaming down as she dreams. Here Yakumo the Tender comes out, even if reluctantly, reciting one of her father’s stories that always used to put her to sleep (in a good way!).

It’s an especially beautiful moment that isn’t taken away from simply because Yakumo gets more pissy afterwards about having to stay alive so Konatsu’s kid can hear his rakugo (which is also the main reason she hasn’t killed him as she’s promised to do.)

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As for Yotarou, earlier in the episode he seems to be letting all the Yakuzagate stuff slide off his line-tattooed back, but the pressure is clearly building for that back to be revealed to his audience, and after his colleague bombs, the pressure finally bursts.

Listening to an extended scene of rakugo in this show can be an almost hypnotic experience, much like BBC’s Shipping Forecast, but with the added visuals of every little hand gesture, shift of a foot, bead of sweat on the head, or other ways humans try to stay sitting in one place.

In this case, his story, which isn’t going over that well with the paltry crowd anyway, builds to an exceedingly misguided attempt to diffuse the tension by stripping to reveal that tattoo, getting up, and dancing around. This wasn’t just bad rakugo…it wasn’t rakugo.

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When Yotarou and Yakumo cross paths with Higuchi in the middle, we learn that the writer, like Konatsu, wants Yakumo to stay alive, so that they can work to keep his rakugo alive. It’s stiking to see the lengths to which people go for a true master’s own rakugo, contrasted with just how damn far Yotarou has left to go.

But rather than pile on, Yakumo takes a more gentle tack, forgiving Yotarou for his impropriety and advising him to embrace his past, and not try to hide it, with or without outlandish stunts. The more pressing problem, however, is whether doing that will bear fruit.

Yakumo is, to be blunt, on the way out, and seems content to let rakugo die with him; at least the rakugo he knew. But Yotarou needs to find a way to get the crowds to trust him again; to see the character he plays and not just an ex-yakuza. Because he’s got a family to provide for now. Breadwinning must come before soul-searching…unless you can get one with the other.

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Shouwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu 2 – 01

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SGRS doesn’t miss a beat in its return after a year, recapping its first season in a very clever and entertaining fashion: rakugo-style, with Yotarou as the storyteller. His enthusiastic description of events are as vivid as any montage of footage from those events would be. While it certainly stood on its own outside the framing of the present day, last season’s epic flashback is essentially serves as a prologue to this one, imbuing it with emotional weight and significance.

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It’s been ten years since Yakumo VIII took Yotarou under his wing. Now Yotarou is a shin’uchi, the third Sukeroku, and wants to be a father to Konatsu’s newborn son, something she’s reticent about, since Yotaoru is “poor, stupid, an entertainer, and has no future”. The future of rakugo itself is in doubt too; Yakumo is seemingly the last extant great master, and the theater in Tokyo is also the last, with Kyoto’s last having closed.

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One could call these “Dark Times” for rakugo, but Yotarou/Sukeroku has other ideas, thanks to a productive encounter with cultural writer Higuchi Eisuke, who is eager to back him as a patron. The catch? Be open-minded to the fact that for rakugo to survive, it must change, and Yotarou must be the one to change it. Higuchi clearly expresses his passion as the two drink together, and much of what he says makes a lot of sense to Yotarou, who needs only to clear it with his master.

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Yakumo has, like a fine wine, only gotten better at rakugo in the twilight of his life. That’s not too surprising, as rakugo is about gaining and maintaining empathy. It’s a live performance in which the teller must draw the crowd in by turning words, voices and gestures into images in their minds. He’s been in front of crowds most of his life, and knows instinctively how to utterly capture them…and me! Both performances and conversation in this show is simply a joy to watch, especially when the jazzy score kicks in.

Yotarou, who became Yakumo’s apprentice out of adulation, naturally believes he will never surpass his master even if “hell freezes over”, but for rakugo to survive the future – and Yakumo’s partially-hearted efforts to snuff it out lest it become “corrupted”, Yotarou will have to think beyond surpassing his master, and find out how rakugo will have to change.

Yotarou believes fulfilling the “3 conditions” Yakumo gave him requires that he not only learn all of his master’s rakugo, but also find a way to keep rakugo alive, all while taking care of Konatsu and her child by moving in with them to create a family. It won’t be an easy path, but it’s the one Yotarou wants to be on, and I look forward to watching how he walks it.

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