Shouwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu 2 – 04

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After each episode, and after announcing the next, a character thanks us for our “continued support,” and my continued support of Shouwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu has never gone unrewarded.

Case in point: another absolute gem, combining lovely family slice-of-life (with a very unique and cool family), the clouds hanging over Yakumo’s head, and Konatsu getting to do something, out of the blue, she never dreamed of actually doing.

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That adorable little kid up there is Konatsu and Yota’s kid. Some time has passed, but not too much: he’s only in kindergarten, and yet, he’s already surprising and delighting all, even his parents, with his nascent rakugo skills. They may have a genius on their hands.

He’s every bit as charismatic as Konatsu was. Even Yakumo can’t stay mad, going quickly into Grandpa Mode. By the way, how often does a show come around where so much time passes, we get to watch both Konatsu and her son at the same age? It’s a generational show.

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It’s generations that Higuchi Eisuke wishes to discuss with Yakumo, who grudgingly gives him a ride home and his ear for the five or so minutes. Eisuke doesn’t waste them, almost going too far in proclaiming he won’t let Yakumo kill rakugo off, or even define it as something dead or dying. With Yota, Eisuke aims to keep it alive, changing to suit the mood of a generation, just as it always has.

Ever the rigid bamboo, Yakumo won’t hear of any of that, nor will he have any part in Eisuke’s project. And when Yakumo says rakugo is dead, he’s not just talking about how it would die with him, but perhaps how it already died with Sukeroku, someone Yakumo has always believed to be better than him.

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Yota is very much the progressive, without even being that aware of it, because he knows how good “Sis” is at rakugo and thinks if she loves it so much she should just do it. What’s the harm in going out there and trying it? Such an idea is unspeakable to Konatsu, however, and considering the man who raised her, her attitude is hardly surprising. Instead, she’s being trained in shamisen, so she can play her husband and others in and out.

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But when they both go to their kid’s school to perform, Yota gets inspired by the scenario, warms the crowd of mostly little kids up, and then…hands the show over to Konatsu. All of a sudden, she’s doing something she hasn’t done since she was a pint-sized urchin, living with her father.

While initially flustered and overwhelmed, a switch flips and all of a sudden Konatsu us that urchin in the bar, without skipping a beat. Scratch that; after years with Yakumo as a father, she’s gotten better, despite having never performed in public. She’s also, in my opinion, better than Yota, at least in terms of better differentiating between the characters she voices (all kudos to the great Kobayashi Yuu here).

“Jugemu” is a simple story that’s not too raunchy or complicated for the kids, and it involves quite a bit of linguistic limberness to repeat the overly-long name of the titular child over and over at increasingly faster speeds. But it’s a cakewalk for Konatsu. She’d have brought down the house no matter what the makeup of the crowd was.

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And holy crap, the surging of emotions going through Konatsu before, during and after her impromptu performance were just a delight to behold, right up until she embraces her hubby with tears of relief and joy, and he essentially says “See? Rakugo’s hella fun, right?”

The next morning, Konatsu’s back to “usual”, and despite Yota’s protests, she still won’t commit to ever doing rakugo again. It just doesn’t seem right to her to crash something that’s been a “boy’s-only” affair for so long.

It’s an old-fashioned view of a very old-fashioned art, but par for the course for someone with her upbringing, which may have been laissez-faire with Sukeroku, but got real conservative real fast with Yakumo. So while, like Yota, I’m disappointed, and think it’s a waste, I understand why she feels the way she does.

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Yakumo, meanwhile, holds Sukeroku’s fan – old Sukeroku’s; not Yota’s. And as he holds it, a figure appears behind him – Sukeroku’s ghost, I presume. There’s no hint of arrogance or superiority in this moment, as Yakumo seems haunted by the fact a someone as loathsome and untalented as he is “all that’s left” of rakugo.

Yota will probably never be able to impress him, just as he won’t be able to impress himself. Eisuke may be right that rakugo needs to evolve, and Yota may be right that someone of Konatsu’s talent should be a part of that evolution. But you’ll never convince Yakumo of that, and Konatsu will never think it’s appropriate to be anything but musical accompaniment.

That leaves the youngin’. Who knows what future he’ll see that no one else will be around to see. What I hope we do see is Yota’s rakugo continuing to be popular, and that rakugo continuing to grow into something his son can inherit. But Yakumo’s warning about how quickly a fall can come makes me weary of too many good times to come.

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Shouwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu 2 – 03

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The fireworks fly in this episode of SGRS2, both in the night sky and later, in the private room of a restaruant where Konatsu worked before she went on maternity leave, run by a friend of her mother Miyokichi.

But first, we get to soak up a gorgeous, festive night, with Konatsu, the baby, and the mistress relaxing on a bench while Yota practices his ranting on a boat with his patron.

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When the mistress and Konatsu rush to the restaurant Yota follows—as does Eisuke, hungry for details about rakugo life, which he learns is surprisingly similar to thug life. Yota finds his old mob boss, as well as that boss’ boss, who happens to be close to the mistress.

Yota decides to intrude, and after making courteous, verbose apologies, kinda lays into the old man, seemingly unconcerned that he has the power to kill him if he doesn’t like him.

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Fortunately, the big boss is not only a fan of rakugo, but Yota’s rakugo in particular. Even when Yota picks a fight, and even wonders out loud whether the boss is the father of Konatsu’s child, the boss merely tosses him into a koi pond to “cool off”; he doesn’t rough him up.

Yota doesn’t back down, instead belting out an elaborate rant he was practicing before, only customized for the boss, who is entranced and charmed. Yota is starting to realize he’s not just some punk anymore; he’s a shin’uchi…and he’s a father.

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After a night where some doubted if Yota was going to be able to keep his promise to outlive his master, and some goldfish scooping with Eisuke, he returns home, having quite accidentally found “his rakugo” with his elaborate, animated ranting style.

Mind you, Yakumo hasn’t heard it yet,  but agrees to do a family performance, if Yota learns and masters “Inokori,” a Sukeroku classic. To inspire him, Yakumo performs it himself, seemingly flipping a switch and channeling Sukeroku. Yota is spellbound. When he’s finished, Yakumo looks like he’d just climbed twenty flights.

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Yota scared the crap out of Konatsu by confronting the father of her child, but everything worked out for the best. The episode’s parting shot is what Konatsu wants in a nutshell: to live in a comfortable house, to hear Yota’s/Sukeroku’s rakugo, and to have her son hear it as well.

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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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