What happens when you have a story to tell and not enough time to tell it? You cut the opening and ending credits. Episode 3 of Shouwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu cuts right to the chase and omits the musical pleasantries for a captivating story that once again proves why Rakugo needs to be put in the Hall of Fame of Japanese TV animation.
Any art is mastered through constant practice. Rakugo is no different and Yotarou uses every second of his spare time to act a few lines. In a delightful exchange between our storyteller and the wannabe storyteller that ultimately became a writer, the two men explore the connection between meaning and the subtle ‘why’s’ of certain human behaviors. Every scene in rakugo is significant in its own way, and here, amidst the celebrations and the fireworks of the summer festival, we are treated to small life lesson about the meaning of…meaning.
Strange things happen if you continue to live on
One of the most common critiques given to talent show wannabe singers has to do with the way they perform and if they ‘feel’ the lyrics. Yotarou, in his search of his own rakugo, is prompted to think about the meaning of the words he uses and ‘feel’ the story down to each one of them. How can you truly deliver a story if you are not 100% certain of why a character says what he says? How can you really be that character?
Why does the carpenter say those words?
And like an actor who has to draw from his own experiences, Yotarou will improve his rakugo not through imitation but through first-hand experience, and Konatsu will be the reason for that improvement.
Your integrity runs straight and deep. Yakumo raised such a good girl.
One of the golden, if often misunderstood, rules of writing is the famous ‘show, don’t tell.’ In a reversal that just enforces what the rule really means, Yotaro uses his rakugo skills to confront his past, the father of his son, and his storytelling abilities. After all, it’s all about storytelling, and in a scene that breams with power and emotion, we learn about his past, his determination to be a father and a husband, and his strength of character. ‘Strong’ men base their relationships on respect, and when other anime make sure to either clearly draw the line between good and evil or create a grey area that is not so grey after all, rakugo makes sure to emphasize that we are all an amalgam of both sides of the same coin.
Good job standing firm. That’s how a man should show kindness.
And it is through conflict that Yotaro finally finds his own rakugo. Being brave is not the same as being fearless. His hand still shakes when after his rant he comes closer to Konatsu as a friend, a brother, a husband, and a father. And she in turn places her trust in him
When I’m with you, the thought that I’m living a tragic life seems foolish
Rakugo, like life, and like any art, is a lifelong journey. Yakumo-sensei, old and frail, agrees to a family performance only if Yotaro tells ‘Inokori’, a story that’s significant for two reasons: first, it’s about a man with a certain level of ego that Yotaro lacks, and second, it was one of the stories that the man whose name Yotaro has used to tell.
By the end of the episode I could sense my feels building up and I have to thank Konatsu for finally giving me a reason to properly let them out:
That’s daddy’s rakugo you are hearing
The 80s: On the jacket notebook that our dear writer writes his observations we can see that the date is July 1989. No wonder there are no computers and cell-phones. Good days (said the grumpy old man that I am.)
Hanako: What a cute dog. I love dogs, and after so many cats in 3-gatsu no Lion it was a nice change to see one.
Themes & Trivia
The Art Demon: Yakumo’s performance was breathtaking. His facial expressions, the way he changed his pitch on every character, the passion of his storytelling. I am awed by the level of quality on both the animation and the voice-acting. It needs a certain level of commitment to make such a difficult concept work.
Rakugo Stories: It’s really difficult to find rakugo stories in English. I have seen a few famous English performers and one Japanese who became famous for his English rakugo, but I haven’t found a book with rakugo stories. I will keep on looking and I will let you know in a future review. I will also tell you more about these rakugoka (storytellers).
I’ve often thought what the purpose of animation is. Most of the times, it’s a cheaper way to portray things that could have skyrocketed the budget in a live-action film, even with the use of CGI. Spaceships, surreal scenes, cute girls, super powers, etc. But then comes a series like Showa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu and it reminds me that sometimes animation can help a creator realize a vision without the need of finding the perfect background scenery or spending hours trying to give an actor to understand how to play a certain scene. And in the case of rakugo, an oral tradition that places an emphasis on acting and facial expressions, a book would have been cut short. This episode reminded me that some stories really shine through anime.
A Lifetime with Rakugo
Just as the first season followed Yakumo through a period of many years, the second season will take us in a journey to the future of rakugo. We saw at the preview that little Shinu is all grown up and that means that Yotarou will have probably reached a new stage in his career.