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.

Shouwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu – 13 (Fin)

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After a dominating emotional one-two punch of the last couple of episodes, the last episode of Shouwa Genraku Rakugo Shinjuu was bound to be quiet and uneventful by comparison. The first half or so is the aftermath of the death of Sukeroku and Miyokichi. Kikuhiko takes Konatsu on as a ward and after making arrangements for the internment of her parent’s ashes, he takes her to Tokyo.

There, he’s officially named Yakumo, since, well, there’s no one else to take it. No matter how good I or anyone else think he may be, he’ll never believe he deserved the title. Were it not for the war, or the events that led to his brother’s death, someone better would have inherited it. That being said, he knows someone has to take it, so he accepts.

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After we witness a smidgen of Yakumo’s (lack of) parenting skills, as a young, grieving Konatsu soothes her heart with rakugo (in spite of her guardian’s displeasure with the practice), we return to the present, with a futatsume Yotaro getting a haircut as penance for letting slip that he’s to be promoted to shin’uchi soon.

The now-grown Konatsu is proud of the lug, and probably a little jealous too (what with her wish to do what he’s doing). At the end of the day there was no need to go right back to that night Yakumo forgave Yotaro and started his long epic tale that came to comprise the lion’s share of the series. Suffice it to say, Yotaro did what was asked of him, and is on the cusp of making it in a world many have now forgotten.

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Sharing some congratulatory tea in the doorway of their home, Konatsu asks Yotaro to do some rakugo for her. Not just any story; the same one she tearfully performed to herself years back, which led to Yakumo’s scolding. It brings tears to her eyes again, surprising Yotaro, and she suddenly tells him she’s preggers.

What she won’t say is who the father is, only that she wants to carry on the Sukeroku bloodline for her father’s sake. Yotaro, saying the first thing to come into his head, offers to be the kid’s father; she reacts with anger and exasperation and storms off, but notably without outright refusing the offer.

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As for Ol’ Yakumo, he’s washing the family grave on the anniversary of the seventh generation’s death, and pondering his own eventual demise as disconcerted Matsuda stands by. Yakumo can’t believe Yotaro is about to become a Shin’uchi, but like his masters before, he has little choice.

It’s as if the deterioration of rakugo has only accelerated, with Yakumo only being able to carry it on in its purest—but least flexible—form. Only one theater remains open in Tokyo, and it’s rarely full. With someone like Yotaro under his wing, rakugo’s future is that much brighter. But then, Yotarou asks to inheret the Sukeroku name, not moments after Yakumo saw the ghost of the man himself.

So ends the first act of Shouwa Genraku Rakugo Shinjuu. There would seem to be plenty of material for a second, for which this episode serves as a kind of entre’acte. And indeed, after the end credits, Yotaro apologizes for not being able to tell more, but they simply ran out of time. If and when an Act Two comes, I shall emphatically seek it out!

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Shouwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu – 12

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The day of the dual performance arrives, and the atmosphere is fizzing with anticipation. Sukeroku is noncommittal at first, even when Matsuda arrives, lonely after the passing of his wife. But Konatsu is super-excited at the prospect of getting to watch her dad do what he was meant to, while Kiku sees this little makeshift theater as the venue for re-stoking Sukeroku’s fire and enticing him to come back to Tokyo with him.

Matsuda isn’t the only lonely one. Miyokichi may be with Sukeroku, and Konatsu may be their child, but one gets the idea only one thing—one person—is on her mind, and that’s Kiku. It’s ironic that this theater was once a place for geishas like Miyokichi used to be. But now she’s in Western clothes and sneaking in incognito, and the room is now a place for a different kind of performance.

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We only see and hear snippets of Kiku’s whole performance rather than a single continuous story, as if to underscore the point that this episode isn’t really about Kiku’s performance He’s become one of the best performers alive; his talent is undisputed, and he’s a consummate professional. There was never any doubt he’d knock it out of the park. 

The real question is how a rusty Sukeroku will fare. He becomes more motivated after Kiku goes first (Kiku’s intention, no doubt), because by watching Kiku he was able to observe the quality of the audience, about whom he was initially dubious.

But Kiku’s rakugo was good not just becaue Kiku is good, but because the crowd is good. Rakugo is a far more collaborative process than it seems, with a performer feeding off the crowd as the crowd gets sucked into the performance. Notably, Miyokichi leaves before Sukeroku begins, and there’s never a shot of her listening in the hall, so I assume she really left.

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No matter: with Matsuda, Konatsu, Bon, and a good audience at his disposal, Sukeroku goes all out with a rare (for him) sentimental tale about an alcoholic fishmonger who finds a purse of cash washed up on the beach. He celebrates with a lavish party, but awakes from his stupor to learn he only dreamed of the purse, but not the party.

The contrite man promises his wife he’ll quite drinking and pay back all the debts he has, in addition to the added debt from the partying. For three years, works his ass off, until every debt has been paid off. Then his wife confesses the purse wasn’t a dream after all; she merely gave it to police, who held it for a year with no one claiming it before passing back to her.

The wife is beside herself with guilt for deceiving him for so long, but he’s not upset. In the past three years, her lie made him a better man, and when she offers him sake to celebrate, he puts the cup down without taking a sip, lest everything that happened turn out to be a dream.

The crowd leans in, laughs, cries…and leaned in, laughed, and cried. It was a powerful, mesmerizing performance, and at its heights gave me the same chills and goosebumps as the musical performances in Shigatsu kimi no Uso.

When it’s over, Kiku and Sukeroku spend some time relaxing like they used to do in their little apartment, only this time the latter’s daughter is sleeping on his chest, and the two brothers actually deign to agree on something Kiku says:

People can’t understand everything about each other. And yet people still live together. The love of sharing trivial, meaningless things with others is human nature. I suppose that’s why humans can’t stand to be alone.

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Being in this small, close-knit town, being with Sukeroku again, meeting Konatsu, and Sukeroku’s latest and maybe most soul-bearing performance—it’s all had a profound effect on Kiku. He once thought all he needed in his life was rakugo, but he’s human, and he doesn’t want to be alone anymore. Their late master’s house has fallen to him, but it’s too big for just him. He wants Sukeroku, Konatsu, and Miyokichi to move in with him.

But when Kiku is summoned to a room at the inn where Miyokichi meets him, we learn that all she wants in that particular moment is Kiku…and only Kiku. In all the time they’ve been apart she never stopped pining for him, and the fact he’s there gives her cause to believe he wants to change things, perhaps even make amends for knocking her and Sukeroku’s lives off track with his shortsighted insistence on solitude.

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Kiku can’t quite resist Miyokichi’s embrace, but things take a dark turn when she leads him to the open window and starts to push, contemplating both of them dying together.

That’s when Sukeroku barges in, and in a gesture that’s appreciated but perhaps too late to be worth much, promises Miyokichi he’ll get a real job, that he’ll do right by her by abandoning the rakugo that makes her feel so  insecure. He wants to be the husband in that tale he told with a happy ending, in a dream he doesn’t want to wake up from.

If he has to choose between Miyokichi and rakugo, he’s choosing Miyokichi. But the wooden balcony gives way, and Miyokichi starts to fall. Sukeroku dives after her, leaving Kiku to grasp him to keep the two from falling. But Sukeroku breaks his grip, and he and Miyokichi fall to their apparent deaths together.

Now Kiku is alone, and so is Konatsu—though we know he’ll end up taking her in. While it wasn’t as if Kiku took a gun and shot her parents, he most definitely played a role in their demise. No wonder he’s so bitter in the present day, and that Konatsu has always doubted his car accident story.

Yet, even without Sukeroku or Miyokichi, Kiku was able to continue performing excellent rakugo and being adored for it over the years. After all this talk about not being able to do it alone, one could deduce that it was the presence of Konatsu in his life that kept him going. And now, as we know, he has an apprentice, who brought back all these memories of Sukeroku in the first place. I’m eager to see how this ends.

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