In Episode 5 of Shouwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu, the Yurakutei family is ready for its most important performance at the Kabuki-za. Yota-chan will finally perform the Inokori he has been feverishly preparing in the process of trying to find his own rakugo. But the past is one nasty son-of-a-bitch, and it comes back to haunt ‘Kiku-san’…
While the first season of Rakugo was centered in Yakumo and Sukeroku’s relationship, the second season is a mix of the future and of the present haunted by the past. While Yotarou is trying to find a steady foot to take his rakugo to the next level, Yakumo is trying to keep himself sane enough to keep his rakugo in the present. Yota-san is considered by many to be the future of the rakugo world, and his growing popularity only makes the claims more solid.
Yakumo has always prompted Yotaro to find his ego and filter his rakugo through it. After discovering that every performance of Inokori is different, Yotaro discovers that the path to his own style may be unique as well. He loves rakugo and the rakugo characters more than he loves himself, and like the man who bore his name before, he wants to empty his ego in order to become the character in the story. In other words he wants to project the character unto the storyteller and not the storyteller unto the character.
Yakumo: I am curious: who is going to inherit the name of Yakumo? Who is going to be the 9th generation?
Walkman Nony: A clear case of blan-name product, the Nony cassette player is a direct reference to the Sony Walkman of the nineties. I had one of those and the scene injected me with a healthy dose of nostalgia. One of the lost arts of rewinding, children today will never know the use of a pen and a cassette tape.
Sukeroku: The scene where Yotarou looks Sukeroku in the eyes (on the vinyl) was amazing. Yotaro does look like Sukeroku, both in face and spirit. He has that same cheery attitude that can turn into the most serious look when the situation demands it. He is funny and aloof, but he is not naïve. He is brave and funny, serious and cheery; he is Sukeroku.
Themes & Trivia
Kabuki-za: Kabuki-za (歌舞伎座) in Ginza is the principal theater in Tokyo for the traditional kabuki drama form, opened by a Meiji era journalist, Fukuchi Gen’ichirō. The structure that stand there today is the fifth reconstruction. The first building was destroyed on October 30, 1921, by an electrical fire. The second burned down during the 1923 Great Kantō earthquake. The third was destroyed by Allied bombing during World War II. It was restored in 1950 until that structure was demolished in the spring of 2010, and rebuilt over the ensuing three years.
Japanese Calligraphy: The kind of calligraphy that Yakumo is practicing is closer to the one practiced during the Edo period. My calligraphy knowledge is limited, but if you want to learn more about the art, you have to see Barakamon (ばらかもん), the anime adaptation of the titular Japanese manga series written and illustrated by Satsuki Yoshino. The story follows Seishū Handa, a calligrapher who moves to the remote Gotō Islands off the western coast of Kyūshū to focus on his art and prepare for an upcoming calligraphy competition. Calligraphy is also an elementary school subject in the Japanese mandatory education system, and a non-mandatory subject during high school.
Art is about both self-expression and self-discovery. The one cannot exist without the other. Without knowing oneself, one can’t properly express what one wants, and one can’t properly express what one wants, if one doesn’t know at least a fraction of oneself. It’s a vicious cycle with no end, a cycle that many artists have rounded for the duration of their lives. I enjoyed Yotarou’s determination to find his own rakugo. His relationship with his master is not one bred out of fear, but one that is based on respect. He is always wary of his master’s feelings and afraid that he might discomfort him, but he doesn’t feel taunted by his teachings or pressured to take his advice to heart. When Yakumo makes a facepalm because of his apprentice’s stubbornness, Yotarou is just too happy to follow his heart.
The Haunting Past
We already know that Shouwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu spends no time in exploring the supernatural. It is a series based on reality and as such, I expect that Yakumo’s hallucinations are exactly that. Yet, they are the perfect way to explore his feelings and see what kind of regrets he still carries with him. Rakugo’s survival depends, in part, on his reconciliation with his past.