Yakumo’s death wish in Episode 9 Shouwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu is fueled by past regrets and a phantom that is nothing more than a manifestation of his own guilt. Yakumo’s candle stubbornly refuses to burn out, even now when the distinction between the stories he tells and the stories he lives is blurry. Of course, the God of Performance would have managed to take Yakumo with him if not for his guardian angel, the person that is the closest he has to a son, Yotarou.
Episode 9 of Shouwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu played on a common theme that we frequently experience in storytelling: the demons we carry are just manifestations of our scar. We are solely responsible for what happens to us and all our illusions and misconceptions are just a projection of who we are. Our mind is affected by the stimuli around us, no doubt about that, but the thoughts that rise inside it are just us and we are the only ones that bear witness to them. These thoughts are difficult to change, especially at a later age, when there is little room for repentance but plenty of time for regrets. Yakumo may not have the three ghosts of Christmas to transform his attitude, but he has one or two nasty ghosts (of friends past) to once again drive him to commit suicide.
The first is the ghost of Miyokichi that appears again in front of him, passive aggressive and with a wry smile that smells of death. She is silent, a mere projection of Yakumo’s feelings, and the subtle push he needed to try and take his own life. Miyokichi took everything from him, and now she is back to take the rest. Love is mysterious and crazy, and we could have wasted many pages analyzing what Miyokichi took from Bon and what she is able to take from him now. In a nutshell, there is nothing to lose anymore but his life, he may think, but in reality life has given him more than he ever took from him; he’s given him people who care about him, and ironically, two of them are the descendants of the people who haunt him.
His calm demeanor as he climbs the stage of the old theater was not enough to fool us that his suicide attempt was not already decided. After all he had already given the fan to be delivered to Yotarou. If not for Mangetsu’s sharp instincts, Yakumo would have probably died. Yakumo’s frantic state remained after his encounter with Miyokichi, and it was in that state that he decided to perform Shinigami to an empty theater as his last story. I should have guessed from the red-eyed Sukeroku who showed himself again in the opening sequence that something was bound to go terribly wrong in this episode. Red-eyed Sukeroku (a manifestation of Yakumo’s guilt) takes the old man by the hand and sets the theater ablaze. His justification is that the only thing that kept him from killing himself all those years is his attachment to others. This is not what I was expecting when at the beginning of the episode he exclaimed that he wanted to die doing rakugo. In the end, it’s that attachment that saves him once again as the cavalry (Yotarou) comes to his rescue.
‘I don’t want to die’ says Yakumo and allows his disciple to get him out of the burning building, but it remains to be seen if these words are his first steps towards salvation or just a moment of clarity that will fade away. After all, he still perceived this attempt as a failure.
Sukeroku’s Eyes: A few episodes ago I thought that I noticed something peculiar: During the intro sequence and the moment that Sukeroku embraces Yakumo, I saw that Sukeroku’s eyes were red. I compared the scene to previous episodes, and the eyes were either brown or red. I haven’t gotten around to properly go through all frames to notice more differences, but I was delighted to see Sukeroku’s eyes in this episode turning red. I might have missed this detail in previous episodes, but at least I was able to connect the change to something, and that made my reference-crazy self a bit happier.
Themes & Trivia
Cultural Gap: Anime are primarily Japanese. The medium has broken the boundaries of its own island motherland, but that doesn’t mean that its creators are freed from their cultural shackles. After all, our creations are an amalgam of our imagination and our experiences. It’s only natural that manga and anime are culturally tied to Japan. That brings me to the next trivia:
Public Baths in Japan: In case you were wondering why I started with an entry in culture, public baths are the reason. Not many cultures are familiar to the concept of a public bathhouse. In the past, most homes in Japan were not equipped with a proper shower room, bathtub room. The public neighborhood baths were created to fill that void. You could go to a public bath to wash yourself and socialize with the neighbors. Something like going to the hairdressers.
In our days, all modern houses have their own bath, and the number of sentou has declined. In their place you will usually find modern spa complexes that modernized the traditional public baths in what we now know as a spa center or spa retreat: they have pools and saunas and private gyms.
Prison Shows: Human have always been self-centered beings, but in an era where our self-absorption has been enhanced by phones and gadgets, it’s easy to forget that there is a whole world around us that doesn’t stop in what we see on television. The reality found inside our correctional facilities is one of those worlds, and this amazing article found in the Guardian is all you need to read to realize why ‘ theatre in prisons matters.’
With only a few episodes left, I feel that this was probably the No1 tragic point of the series. Not as dramatic as I expected it to be, at least not as dramatic as the big twist revelation earlier this season, but still emotional enough to make me think about life, art, and the pains of being mortal and fragile. For a man who had dedicated his life to his art, it must have been unbearable to see his body withering away, his voice being but a fragment of what it used to be. Instead of finding solace to the people who will carry on his legacy, he instead dwelled in past that kept his scars open and bleeding. I’m not sure if Yakumo will be able to find solace and purpose outside his art, and in my opinion he shouldn’t. But he can reinvent himself and serve rakugo without necessarily doing rakugo.
I want to die doing rakugo
Said the great master and we were all delighted with his affection for his art and for little Shinnosuke, but no one expected that he would take his words a little too literally. Thank the Anime God (and certainly not the God of Performance) that Mangetsu is one clever guy and that Yotaro is the BEST DISCIPLE EVER.