Shouwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu 2 – 09

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When his former big boss goes away for six years’ hard labor, Yotaro has a notion to do a prison show, which is incidentally how he first heard his master. Yakumo performed “Shinigami” at that show, because he liked the chilly, somewhat hostile atmosphere.

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This time, Yakumo performs “Tachikiri”, and he moves many inmates and guards alike with the sad tale of a geisha who died because the letters from her lover stopped due to incarceration.

Of course, after last week’s outburst, part of me was weary of Yakumo being interrupted once again, perhaps this time by an unruly convict. That doesn’t happen, but the sound of Konatsu’s shamisen and voice remind Yakumo of Miyokichi, and she haunts his own visuals of the story.

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After Yakumo tries to see Yotaro’s big “Inokori” show, but leaves because it just…isn’t very good to him (no matter how entertained the crowd is), the old master clears out the old theater and performs “Shinigami” alone by candlelight, in the creepiest scene in the show since he saw those rows of candles after his collapse.

When he completes his tale, one person claps, or rather, one ghost: Sukeroku himself. It isn’t long before his youthful, vital form gives way to the skeleton, revealing a real shinigami has come for Yakumo, and he may get his wish: to die doing rakugo. “Sukeroku” compels Yakumo to toss a candle into the seats, and the whole theater goes up like a tinderbox.

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This would certainly be the end of Yakumo if it weren’t for Yotaro and good timing, who just happens to come by the theater after his performance. Upon the burning stage, with a death god pressing him down, Yakumo admits he doesn’t want to die, and Yotaro stretches to reach his master’s hand and pull him out of the inferno.

Yakumo may not succeed in “taking rakugo with him” when he dies, but he did manage to claim a theater rich in rakugo history in an attempt. What else will he destroy, whether he wants to or not, prior to exiting the stage for good?

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Shouwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu 2 – 08

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After a taste of Kyoto-style rakugo (which has a lot more props than Tokyo style…not sure I like it) courtesy of Mangetsu, who is trying to make a comeback after ten years out of the game, We see a frail and withered Yakumo showing his grandson one of Sukeroku’s albums.

Higuchi and Matsuda then come in to show Yakumo the veritable bonanza of recordings and memorabilia the professor has collected over the years. Higuchi leaves it up to Yakumo whether the recordings and such were ever to be released to the public, or destroyed. Yakky says he’ll think about it.

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In a really, really lovely scene, we see the happy couple of Yotaro and Konatsu relaxing on a warm night, and Konatsu rests her head on Yotaro’s broad back and asks him to perform some rakugo, and is no doubt soothed by the vibration of Yotaro’s voice as he does so. It’s personal rakugo; not for a crowd, but for someone close.

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Yotaro can’t get far in his story before the couple notices Yakumo walking onto the nearby bridge; he feigns a desire to get out and about and a bout of sickness, but Konatsu knows what he’s up to: he was trying to off himself, something she won’t allow until he “atones.”

Or at least, that’s how she chooses to label her love for the man who brought her in when she lost both her parents and raised her into the fine woman she is. Yakumo concedes that fate may not be ready to let him die.

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Yakumo visits Kido Isao, an old friend and who owes him a “debt that can’t be paid”, knows how to keep quiet, and longs to hear Yakumo perform again. Then, one night, after seeing a play with Matsuda, Yakumo finds himself the victim of his loyal servant and family’s machinations.

To wit: he’s being forced into a performance before a small, select audience of old friends, colleagues, and patrons. When he threatens to leave, the lady of the Yanashima Inn “insists” by hilariously shoving him onto the stage.

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But before Yakumo has to perform, he yields that stage to his “dunce” of a student, who performs “Shibahama” to his master’s shock. When asked how he learned it, Yotaro confesses to having watched the film, though doesn’t go so far as to hear the truth of what happened at that inn so many years ago.

As for his “Shibahama”, Sokuroku’s was, in my opinion, far superior. But to Yotaro’s credit, he uses his tendency to weep easily well here.

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When it’s finally Yakumo’s turn, he introduces himself with an air of “whelp, I guess I can’t rest easy yet, so despite my dry tongue here goes”…only to be rudely interrupted by a police raid that has come to arrest Kido Isao. Have those coppers no decency?! 

One also wonders if, like when his suicide was thwarted by the sudden appearance of Yotaro and Konatsu, if there’s something to the fact that he was so harshly silenced just when he was about to do rakugo again.

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Shigatsu wa Kimi no Uso – 13

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Kousei achieved many victories this week: victory over his own inability to hear the notes, which Hiroko surmised might actually be a gift; success in making the crowd not only hear but feel him, as his peers had done before; and most importantly, saying goodbye to his mother by playing the song she once played for him as a lullaby.

After a rough start during which he’s mostly just pissed about Miike badmouthing Kaori, he sounds great. So why did this episode that had so much Win still feel like it had a dark pall cast over it? Simple: Kousei grows and moves forward through the persistent experience of sorrow. And as good as his performance is, the fact remains, Kaori is nowhere to be seen, and that’s a constant concern.

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We know what motivated Takeshi and Emi: Kousei. We can also deduce that Kaori is driven by the desire to play as much and as hard as she can in the little time she has left on this world. But Kousei derives his strength not from idolization or urgency, but form suffering. It’s something Hiroko comes to realize as she listens to Kousei play.

She also reveals that it was she who persuaded his mother Saki to teach him to be a pianist. As Saki grew more ill, she too felt an increasing sense of urgency and desperation that turned her into an abusive wretch. Ironically, it was her love and intense worry for Kousei’s future without her that led to that transformation.

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Ultimately, it wasn’t just Saki’s death that pushed Kousei forward; it was Saki dying after Kousei told her she should die, and all the psychological damage and long dormant period that led to it. He was broken down to virtually nothing, so that someone like Kaori could enter his life and put him back together piece by piece.

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This is a performance episode, and the performance is suitably awesome. I mentioned Kousei starts off rough (more crude than ferocious, Ochiai tsks), but once he realizes he can hear the music within him, particularly the way his mother used to play, he suddenly shifts to that style, a flowerly, highly technical yet gorgeous style that enthralls the audience, friend and stranger alike.

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EMI’S FIRED UP. So were we. Kousei comes into his own, even without Kaori there to support him. I for one hope Emi gets to interact more with Kousei, either musically or personally, because Emi is great.

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For Kousei, it’s one of the more emotionally taxing performances of the series, to the point that after finishing, bowing to an audience stunned into silence until it gradually remembers to applaud, Kousei’s knees give out off-stage, and after receiving a direct hit from a Koharu Missile, is embraced by Hiroko and lets it all out. His performance was brilliant, but anyone, musically trained or no, could sense the pain and longing that fueled it.

Hell, even the punk kid Miike was so moved, his performance softened into something more to please his own mother than to knock the crowd’s socks off or mark his territory.

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As he exits the hall, Tsubaki starts to approach Kousei, but finds herself unable to speak or act normally around him. Her heart beats extremely loudly and when Kousei acknowledges her and expresses his hope she’d praise him, she can barely hold back tears, be they of relief or disappointment.

Whatever the tears were really for, it’s clear Tsubaki is as in love with Kousei as ever, and this performance only amplified those feelings, as proud and relieved as she is by his victory.

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But back to sorrow: Kousei can’t catch a break. No surprise; Kaori was a no-show because she was hospitalized. When Kousei rushes to the hospital and sees her, she doesn’t look well at all, bandaged and pale; her smile fooling no one. Interspersed with this heartbreaking reunion that makes it painfully apparent Kousei is likely about to watch another woman he loves wither away and die before him, Hiroko suspects, despairingly, that this may simply be the life the universe has chosen for Arima Kousei, Musician.

Without loss, grief and sorrow, Arima Kousei, Musician would not exist. I can’t help but look forward to what looks like the very near future in which Kaori is no more, how Kousei will deal, and who if anyone could step in to fill that new gaping hole in his heart. Yes, as much as I love Kaori, the fact that her imminent demise is such a foregone conclusion means she may be holding Kousei back, along with the show itself.

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Shigatsu wa Kimi no Uso – 12

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With only a week until the big gala concert, Kousei is having trouble with the piece Kaori is making him play: Fritz Kreisler’s “Love’s Sorrow”, a piece he has vivid memories of his (healthy) mother playing as he napped under the piano or hummed as a lullaby. Practically any other piece would have been easier for him to pick up.

Hiroko tells him not to brood about the fact he’s guilty about trying to forget about Saki. She also suspects he can’t hear the notes because they’re being drowned out by all the powerful emotions and memories stewing within him, that he has yet to figure out how to use to his advantage. It’s a gift, not a curse. Use it.

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This episode is replete with the joy and sorrow of love, starting with Hiroko’s insistence Kousei’s mom was proud of him. In that moment, his mother felt the joy of watching her son grow up, and the sorrow of watching him drift away, of ‘leaving the nest’.

Kousei also experiences the joy of his love for Kaori, as they bicker incessantly in between practices, then ride home on his bike under a starry Summer sky. The brief pause between the last episode and this gave me some time to ponder whether Kaori has been Kousei’s Manic Pixie Dream Girl so far. Consider:

  • Fairly static character with eccentric personality quirks
  • The romantic interest for a brooding, depressed male protagonist
  • In the words of the late Roger Ebert, she’s “completely available” and “absolutely desirable”
  • Only seems interested in the happiness (and growth) of Kousei
  • Does not (outwardly, at least) deal with any complex issues of her own

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Of course, as soon as those points are listed, one can start to punch holes in them. She’s not ‘completely’ available nor only ‘for’ Kousei, but ostensibly Ryouta’s girl, even though the connection between those two mostly centers on the fact they’re both attractive. Secondly, we have seen Kaori struggle, and use Kaori as a means for her to push forward with her music, even if she’s not pushing forward anywhere else in her life. She flat-out tells Kashiwagi she’s not thinking about her future, though that could also be due to her health.

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Third, we finally meet Kaori’s folks, and they’re awesome! Turns out they’re longtime fans of Kousei too, and stoked to meet him and stuff him with pastries. He impresses them with his manners (as they probably assumed he was still the awkward automaton of his earlier years), to the point where they may be looking at him as a potential match for their Kaori.

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Meeting the Parents is a big step in a relationship, so it’s a bit disappointing when the gang assembles at the school pool to play with fireworks, Kousei sees Kaori with Ryouta and starts to recede into Friend A territory. Dude, she’s clearly interested in you on a far deeper level than Ryouta, and Ryouta has given you his blessing. Man the fuck up.

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Kousei doesn’t have time to be worried about crap like this, even if he isn’t as aware of it as we are, having heard Kaori’s internal monologue about her not always being around. As if to punctuate that point, her dazzling sparkler suddenly goes out. Kaori is that sparkler. Her supply of fuel is not limitless.

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Tsubaki notices Kousei staring at the perfect couple, gets jealous, and launches a bottle rocket attack, sending Ryouta and Kousei into the pool. It turns out to be a boon for Kousei because here, in an approximation of the deep dark sea where he’s always ended up during performances, and with Hiroko’s advice in mind he figures things out. He’s technically proficient enough to not hear the notes, so why try? Instead, channel his memories of the music and feel it, and he should do fine. Probably!

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He’s underwater a bit too long though, and ends up losing consciousness. Ryouta brings him back, but Tsubaki reverts to Little Kid Childhood Friend Mode and cries with worry. I love how Tsubaki cannot hold in her love and responsibility for the kid who seemed lost for so long, even if he’s found a new muse in the present. And while she gets along fine with Kaori, she clearly can’t stand the fact that Kaori has come between her and the boy she can’t help but love above all others.

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On the big day of the gala concert, Emi attempts to attend incognito, but her instructor outs her. Emi reacts by denying she’s there to hear Kousei, even though she’s definitely there to hear Kousei. What kind of behavior is this, again? Ah yes..tsundere behavior. Even so, I’ve become so fond of Emi (and her seiyu Hayami Saori) so much that I don’t mind her at all as the third love interest. Emi has musical connection with Kousei that Tsubaki doesn’t, and the show has made it plain that we shouldn’t expect Kaori to be around forever.

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Indeed, Kaori totally flakes out on the concert! Her phone rings off the hook in her room, and her parents’ pastry shop appears to be closed, which is a bad sign; more a ‘Kaori has been hospitalized again’ sign than a ‘Kaori overslept’ sign. Sure, there’s every possibility this was meant to be another test for Kousei, but I can’t help but fear something out of Kaori’s control is respoinsible for her absence.

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Hiroko tries to get an arrogant little punk of a kid to move his performance up so Kousei and Kaori can play last, but he refuses, having heard all the buzz about Kaori in the lobby and philosophically opposed to her style of play. This concert his his moment of triumph, and he doesn’t let Kousei forget it.

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Kousei and Kaori’s playing time arrives, and Kaori is not there, so Kousei has to make another unprecedented move that outrages the conservative judge (even though there is no judging at gala concerts) by daring to play the piece alone. Kousei’s worries about Kaori flaking out on him and not being able to do it without her was replaced by pride and determination, thanks in no small part to that prodigy jerk’s little tirade. Worrying about why Kaori is pointless; she’s not there. The show must go on anyway.

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Shigatsu wa Kimi no Uso – 11

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We’re still in the middle of our journey.

That’s true, both for Kousei, and for us, as this is the eleventh in a 22-episode series. It’s right where we want to be, too: Kousei has, by ‘defiling the sacred garden of competition’, found himself, but he still sucks at the piano right now. He is, in the parlance of Whisper of the Heart, a rough stone that needs polishing to become a gem. That polishing will take time, blood, sweat, and tears…far more than he’s already expended to this point!

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In a shock to precisely no one, Kousei didn’t even make it through the preliminaries; his performance was a train wreck after all, and he stopped in the middle. But he doesn’t care…and that’s what vexes Takeshi so…at first. Tak had always seen Kousei as his HERO; someone who always took the stage alone, never gave up, did amazing things, then left the stage alone. This new, ‘human-like’ Kousei is strange and foreign to him, but in the end, it’s better that he is the way he is now.

Emi certainly sees this as an improvement. As bad as Kousei played, she could hear clearly that he was playing FOR something, or someone, that there was a purpose to him being on that stage beyond playing the sheet music perfectly like a robot. She liked the mischievous Kousei that peeked his head out from behind the curtain, and wants to hear more. And I’m sure she will!

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On the way home from his own loss, Kousei puts on a brave and stoic face, knowing he did his best. But just as Ryouta and Tsubaki did before him, the pang of defeat catches up to him and he has no choice but to run screaming as the train passes. It’s a cheesy scene, but a powerful one, and well-earned.

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Summer approacheth, but Kaori isn’t going to let Kousei rest on his moral laurels. There’s a concert gala at Towa Hall, and they’re going to play together again; this time, Kreisler’s Liebeleid (and I noticed and enjoyed Kaori breaking into German now and then)

Kousei’s mother’s (and, really, his) friend Seto Hiroko, Japan’s top pianist, is an interesting and welcome addition to the cast. Hiroko is super-cool and just happened to be present for Kousei’s self-finding experiment. She’s surprised he went back to the piano, and he tells her about the weird violinist who brought him back into the musician fold, Hiroko was clearly heartened.

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In the flashback, we see a non-evil Kousei’s mom who wasn’t going to make Kousei into a pianist at all “if she could help it”, but it was Hiroko who noticed he had a special gift and insisted his mom nurture it. We know what happened after that. Now, two years later, Kousei’s come out of limbo and wants her to teach him how to play properly again. He owes it to Kaori.

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That brings us to the episode’s climax and the true middle point of the show, in which Kousei finally tells Kaori directly (in a field of fireflies) that it was her that gave him the power and the strength to play. As she had probably gathered, he was playing only for her; sought only her approval and endorsement. This isn’t one of those romantic scenes where the two throw themselves into each others’ arms and kiss, but it was still pretty damn rousing.

So ephemeral and weak. But it’s shining with all its might.

That being said, the show is determined to rain on its own parade by reiterating that NO, Kaori will NOT be around forever for Kousei to lean on. She led him back to the world of music, but no doubt her health won’t allow her to stay on the same path as him much longer. As much as I hate to say it, I just don’t see Kaori lasting until the end of this show.

Which begs the question: how will he deal with her inevitable demise? What or whom will he choose to replace what now seems utterly irreplaceable?

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Shigatsu wa Kimi no Uso – 10

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Well, let’s just get this out of the way: Kousei’s performance STINKS. He’s literally all over the shop; shifting wildly from the same old soulless human metronome, to banging on the piano like a child wailing in pain, to stopping completely. But none of that matters. This was still a HUGE leap forward for Kousei; life-changingly huge. And it all came down to Kaori.

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The ‘ghost’ of Kousei’s mom kept going on about his “punishment” for rejecting her and her dreams, but more than before, the cuts of her and the deep dark sea are interspersed with cuts of Kaori. She’s in his head more and more as the performance goes on, all but replacing Mom. He keeps his head up, looks at the lights as if they were the shining stars, and tries to finish the performance, even if he can’t be proud of it.

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It’s still a struggle, but after he stops, he again remembers Kaori turning around and saying “Again!” At this point he’s lost the audience completely and disqualified himself from the competition, but his pause in the music is a crucial ‘reboot’ of sorts for his psyche. He fell, but he gets back up and gets back to the ivories, with Kaori constantly in his heart.

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Once he’s playing again, albeit very badly, it occurs to him that Kaori and only Kaori is the one he’s playing for; the only one he wants to reach, just as she reached him so powerfully, both through her performances, but also simply by being there for him, guiding him out of the dark. He starts to channel those emotions through the piano, and his notes ‘shimmer’ as he begins to project to the crowd the imagery of the practice room as Kaori softly dozes.

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Again, his playing changes. It’s not enough to make everyone forget the ugliness before, but it’s still plenty compelling, which is a lot to say for a pianist with a reputation for sticking to the sheet music. Everyone has this priceless “Huh? WTF is going on?” look on their faces, except for the few in the crowd who matter.

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Now that he’s found something to replace the ragged gaping hole in his heart his mother left, Kousei can play with confidence and passion, although perhaps still too raw to make any headway with the judges. But again, that doesn’t matter: this was never about Kousei jumping right back into contention; that’s still a ways off. It was about breaking free, severing his puppet strings, and going his own way, for the sake of the girl he loves.

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It would appear his music did in fact reach Kaori, who is moved to tears along with the little girl with the cat. Heck, even his Mom seems to be proud of him moving on in the end. After all, the villainess in Kousei’s mind was a ghost of his own making, forged from guilt and regret over how things with her. That ghost wasn’t something to be defeated, but rather transformed, as Kousei transformed himself this week.

It doesn’t do justice to say he’s merely ‘back’; thanks to Kaori, he’s been reborn; better than ever. Births may be messy and harrowing, as his performance was, but both herald the start of something new, amazing, and full of possibilities. As long as Kaori remains alive.

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Shigatsu wa Kimi no Uso – 09

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Let’s dig right in, shall we? First of all, I was not expecting the cold open return to the middle of Emi’s performance, and some of it was simply elaborating upon things that were already made clear last week. That being said, the extra attention paid to Emi, and in particular her childhood, provide a baseline with which to compare the very, erm…different childhood Kousei experienced. The modern arrangement of the Chopin matches her past self’s bright-eyed outlook nicely.

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More on that later. I do like how Emi storms off the stage, grabs Kousei by the scruff, and is on the cusp of saying…something important to him, but almost seems to chicken out and runs off to change, disappointing Takeshi. Still, her mission was accomplished; Kousei did hear her, and he was moved to the very core.

Meanwhile…damn, Kaori takes a lot of drugs! Did you put that scene in there to remind us she’s a very sick girl who’s going to die just when Kousei loves and needs her the most? Is the titular “lie” ultimately the lie that everything will turn out just fine? You’re a cruel show, Uso.

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Cruel, perhaps, but also the king of building tension and anticipation to the point our stomachs hurt right along with Tsubaki. Takeshi and Emi may be disappointed in the relatively ‘simple’ Chopin piece Kousei will play (chosen at random by Kaori) but even they’re smacking their lips at the opportunity to see him play again for the first time in years. His slow walk to the stage is full of triumph, as Kousei’s heart and soul and musical will all seem to have been jump-started by the other performances.

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But those of you who thought this would be the day Kousei shook off all of his past trauma regarding the piano thanks to both his friends and admirers…well, you were probably disappointed, but tough noogies. Shame on you anyway; we’re not even halfway through the series; it’s way to early for Kousei to be getting over anything.

There’s an interesting symmetry that further supports why Emi’s story occupied the cold open: Emi was a little girl in the crowd who got extremely inspired by Kousei in the past. Kousei spots a little girl in the crowd and gets extremely rattled in the present. Nice!

But long before Kousei saw the girl with the cat I knew Kousei was going to have a rough time this week. There’s no doubt that Takeshi, Emi and Kaori have moved him deeply, but in the blinding light of their awesomeness, he only temporarily forgot about the darkness lurking even deeper in his psyche that kept him away from the piano in the first place.

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Far from a tale of how Kousei gets his groove back, this episode intercuts Kousei’s initially competent but emotionless performance with scenes of his past when he was abused by his ailing mother (note the same ridiculous pile of drugs Kaori had).

And let’s not beat around the bush here: Kousei was and remains a victim of brutal, unyielding physical and emotional child abuse, and his mother was a coward and a brute undeserving of such a loving, devoted son. Maybe she knew that herself, and so worked so intently on beating that love out of him.

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Takeshi and Emi’s stories of how they got so good at the piano were full of envy, resentment, and longing, but they had it way easier than poor Kousei. And they were embracing music as a means to better themselves (so they could stand on the same level as Kousei), while Kousei purely played to make his mother better, a notion borne from emotion, which his mom hated above all else.

To her, emotion could only corrupt composer’s intended notes. The sheet music had to be followed precisely without the slightest error or embellishment.

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She finally succeeded in making Kousei snap. After a public performance she attended that he had been looking forward to making her happy with, she has nothing but scorn and cane blows for him, and he tells her to just die already. And so complete was her abuse, Kousei blamed himself and those words for her ultimate death shortly thereafter.

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Initially, he kept practicing like nothing was amiss, but one day his ‘punishment’ arrives in the form of his mother’s ghost, taking away his ability to hear the notes and plunging him into the sea. That is again where he finds himself during his attempted comeback.

It’s all in his head; it’s all scar tissue built up by his awful mom, but as long as he blames himself for her death, as long a part of him believes he deserves this punishment, no amount of inspiring peer performances will help him recover what he’s lost. We saw both Kaori and his mother in possession of pharmaceutical galaxies, but it might be Kousei who’s most in need of medication…not to mention therapy.

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