Chihayafuru 3 – 14 – Beware the Dried Persimmon

Last week Harada Hideo looked like he was doing absolutely all he physically could to maintain a six-card deficit with Arata, and then his knee seemingly gives way. The surging, crackling pain is ably expressed by a nest of rough crayon scrawls. But this could be his last chance at claiming the title of Master, so he plays through it and ups the aggression of his moves.

In doing so, his hands move before the rest of his body, resulting in Harada taking a nasty spill more than once that unsettles the entire game. As expected, Arata isn’t able to resist being the good guy that he is and help Harada pick up his cards, and he doesn’t call out Harada when he faults.

He also reverts to following the edicts of his grandfather in seeking balance on his right side. That ends up being such a critical error that it couldn’t even be said Arata lost the match playing as himself; he lost it too closely emulating his gramps…and by being too nice to an his mentor.

Still, it’s those kinds of things that separate the young from the old in a game like this. It was certainly touch-and-go with a couple of questionable calls and lucky breaks, but Harada Hideo beat Arata fair and square. Frankly, he needed the win more than Arata, who is, after all, only 17 for cryin’ out loud.

Unlike Arata, Harada wasn’t related to an Eternal Master. He was also dealt a serious blow to his career when his medical duties sent him to regions of Japan where Karuta simply wasn’t popular. Harada waited decades for the right time—and the right reader—to claim his victory. And his students and peers are to a person so moved by his win they’re all in tears…even Kitaro!

Arata wonders if he fussed too much over the one card he had to have—the Chihaya furu card; the first card Chihaya memorized—leading to his fatal fault. At the same time, when Chihaya comes to congratulate him for a close and thrilling match, he comes right out and says I love you, then tells her he wants to play more karuta with her.

Chihaya seems stunned into catatonia and slithers off to be by herself, while Oe and Sumire are gobsmacked. Only time will tell if Arata’s simple words reached her and  how she’ll respond to them, if she responds at all. In any case, it was a damned brave, manly thing to do moments after one of the greater defeats of his life!

Taichi is similarly manly in returning to Suo the scarf he gave Chihaya, envisioning her as his “bride.” I’m sorry, but I don’t much care for the prospect of Suo stalking Chihaya, no siree! Thank goodness Taichi had the guts to tell him Chihaya was “his girlfriend”—and that those words seemed to spell the end of his creepy pursuit!

In his evening phone call to Shinobu to report the results of the playoffs, which amounted to two instances of veterans defeating youth, Suo uses fruits as a metaphor. While Arata—and perhaps in the Queen match, Shinobu—are “fresh apples”: cool, crisp, and sweet, Harada and Inokuma were “dried persimmons”: deep, complex, and of a flavor able to completely overpower the apples.

It’s clear he’s also warning himself: an apple a day won’t keep Dr. Harada away!

Shouwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu – 08

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As we return to Kikuhiko’s tale, he’s just finishing up his tour with Master Yakumo, having steamed up many an audience in Kyoto with his seductively funny rakugo. Talk of making him a shin’uchi is no longer presumptuous; as even his own master was too enthralled both with his performance and the reaction of the crowd to notice the mistakes he made.

Kiku is rapidly progressing on the steam locomotive to greatness, but there are sacrifices that need to be made on the way – both those imposed upon him, and those he imposes on himself.

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Back in Tokyo, Miyokichi sits in the back of another full house as Sukeroku performs and effortlessly drawing huge laughs. But she’s not laughing; she’s there to catch a glimpse of the man she loves who’s currently giving her the cold shoulder.

Her presence didn’t go unnoticed by Sukeroku (she was the only one there who wasn’t “ancient”), and he proposes a commiseration session: she gets to vent to him about a subject he’s very well versed in – Kiku-san – in exchange for buying him a drinkypoo.

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Their ensuing conversation, a thing of beauty, offers many insights into Miyokichi’s character and the nature of her love of Kiku. She doesn’t even like rakugo; she prefers movies. Hearing his voice is the only reason she goes to the theater. She endures the stodgy, old-fashioned practice she wouldn’t otherwise give the time of day…for Kiku. She also endures his constant brush-offs, including this most recent unannounced trip of his.

Miyo can endure this because she’s strong. She had to be. Abandoned by a man when in Manchuria, she had to sell her body to survive, until Master Yakumo brought her home. But because she’s become so tough, neither the good Master nor Sukeroku are her type. She doesn’t go for nice guys, she likes cold guys, and Kiku has certainly been that to her.

Miyo doesn’t want the moon; she just wants to be able to stand beside the man she loves and support him as a woman. But she suspects, and Sukeroku can’t convince her otherwise, that Kiku intends to break up with her. When she takes her leave on that somber note, Sukeroku, ever the nice guy, can’t help but draw her into a hug.

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It’s while she’s struggling to get out of that hug that Kiku appears, suddenly back as quietly as he left. His exchange with Miyo is brief and probably the coldest yet, but there’s a reason for it; Kiku indeed intends to break up with her, and doesn’t want to be cruel by being kind beforehand.

Kiku can admit to Sukeroku that he loves Miyo, but the Master has told him he needs to find a “proper woman” to settle down with a family. Disobeying would mean expulsion from Yurakutei, and in this case, with his rakugo future so bright and his identity and place in that world so clear…Miyokichi is second fiddle to all that.

In fact, Kiku would rather simply be alone than be with anyone, a sentiment that quickly evolves into an agreement for Sukeroku to move out of his apartment. Kiku relays to Sukeroku all of the flaws their master mentioned that are making it hard to promote him, but Sukeroku is in this business because he loves rakugo, and he has bigger plans than the Yurakutei orthodoxy could ever accommodate.

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His position is legitimized by the simple fact they’re in a packed jazz hall filled with Japanese in Western clothes, listening to American music. The times they are a changin’. He acknowledges that a part of rakugo must always endure, but that’s Kiku’s duty. Sukeroku intends to be the part of rakugo that evolves by changing to suit whatever the people want, which is never fixed.

Kiku is a traditionalist; Sukeroku the innovator. But they are alike in two important ways: they both love rakugo and they both respect each other’s place in that world. At the same time, Sukeroku didn’t want to end up like his previous “master”, the one from which he took the name Sukeroku, who ended up dying penniless.

That night, Master Yakumo celebrates with Matsuda his hard-won success in getting both Kikuhiko and Sukeroku promoted to shin’uchi, he takes the Yurakutei family record from the alter to let the past generations share in the celebration, even as he laments he wasn’t quite able to achieve what his forebears did.

Unaware of his promotion, Sukeroku roams the streets, gently kicked out of Kiku’s place, backlit by the bright lights and the winds of change. Kikuhiko, also unaware, but now alone in his apartment like he wanted, pauses his practicing to inspect the old fan Sukeroku gave him. They’ve started on very different paths for the same love of rakugo. It was an amicable parting, but that doesn’t make it any less sad!

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