I have to admit that when I saw Yotarou in the first episode of the first season, I didn’t really like him. He had those pointy teeth and happy-go-lucky atmosphere, and his joyful aura was in direct contrast to the aura that the series emitted right from the beginning. Now he is probably my favorite character of the series: A man of principles with a soul so pure that I still can’t believe his past connection to that yakuza-like gang. He is a great father, a dependable husband, a disciple to be proud of, and in Episode 6 of Shouwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu: Sukeroku Futatabi Hen he managed to show another aspect that left me speechless: his professionalism is unmatched.
Another brilliant episode for Shouwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu that played on two levels: the first is Yakumo and his hospitalization. His sudden collapse will unite the family in what Konatsu describes as ‘their most crucial moment.’ Konatsu and little Shin’po escort the ailing master back to the hospital and Yotarou is ready to follow but for a gaze by his master, a gaze that shouted ‘YOTAROU, Listen to those people outside. They are here to listen to rakugo, our rakugo, your rakugo. Don’t let them down.’ And he didn’t. He stayed behind to perform the best story of his life, an ‘Inokori’ that his master missed, but the rest of the theater felt to their bones. An ‘Inokori’ that was free from the pressure of his current situation; an ‘inokori’ that was free from the tears that gathered behind his eyes; free from the anticipation. It was a performance with no ‘lead in’ to bridge the connection between the now and the ‘then’ of the story. It was pure rakugo.
Free from ego or hunger, a vessel of pure rakugo
Suheiji, the con-man of the story was not Sukeroku. He was neither Yakumo nor any other storyteller. For the first in a long time, Suheiji was just ‘the man who makes a living by staying behind.’ The stage was filled with the people from the Edo period and you could almost hear the geishas playing their shamisen and the people laughing, dancing, and cursing. The people in the theater weren’t just hearing a story set in Edo, they were witnesses to the past coming alive in front of them. They were witnesses to the best moment of the future of rakugo.
Magetsu: I was puzzled by the importance that the ex-rakugoka played in this episode, but his real value was found in his talk with Matsuda in the car. We all take our own individual paths, but there is always a little line that connects us to every period of our lives. What we are today is, after all, the sum of all our past experiences, and no matter how hard some people try to sever their connection to the past, it is the past that made them into what they are today. Rakugo was and probably will always be part of his life. After all, according to Matsuda, he was a good storyteller.
Theater: Amazing sequence of theater shots, carefully selected to show the character of an old building that has seen some of the most famous rakugoka perform on its stage. An emotional rollercoaster of images that was enhanced by the owner’s meditation on what ‘character’ and ‘aura’ is and how it can be projected from a building imprinted with the feelings and memories of countless people.
Three forms of expression: According to the man who will at some point be responsible for writing a new collection of rakugo classics (at least I hope he will) identified Yotaro’s Inokori as the amalgam of two great storytelling forms of expressions into a third. First, Master Yakumo’s rakugo, a solid technique that is used as a tool to express himself, a medium through which he projects his beliefs and his feelings. Sukeroku, on the other hand, is a sincere form of rakugo that weights on reality. Every character is Sukeroku. Every situation is Sukeroku. And then it’s Yotarou, a professional whose rakugo is based on his tremendous strength to differentiate his story from his own personal demons. His rakugo is the purest form, a combination of the other two, a unique storytelling technique that could belong to no other but him.
Themes & Trivia
Taisho Era: The owner of the theater mentions that the building was built during the Taisho era. That’s a really old building. The Taishō period (大正時代 ) is the period from July 30, 1912, to December 25, 1926, coinciding with the reign of the Emperor Taishō. It’s a significant era in Japanese history, because it was the time that democracy was actively pursued through the Imperial Diet of Japan and the Taisho democracy movement.
Rakugo is not a famous method of storytelling. It has never left the land the sun greets first every morning, probably because it talks about a period that many people would have trouble resonating with. The closest thing we have in the western world is quality stand-up comedy that bases its jokes on anecdotes instead of quick and successive punchlines. Yet, rakugo is stand-up comedy. Rakugo talks about real life situations of real life people. It talks about universal themes that everyone can relate to: greed, love, shame, fraud. Sure, the stories could benefit from some modifications when told in different cultures, but the baseline, the gist of rakugo can appeal to anyone, anywhere. There are some famous English rakugo performers, and I plan on checking them out. In the course of this series, I more than once hoped I was born a Japanese. Not in creepy weaboo-like way; I’m not one of those otaku-purists who believe that Japan is the BEST EVER. But I have always believed that being born in a language gives you a unique insight that can’t be attained through tutelage.
Back to the Past
Judging from the preview (have you seen the preview – ALWAYS GO PAST THE CREDITS) Episode 7 of Shouwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu: Sukeroku Futatabi Hen is going to take us back to the past, probably through the film of Sukeroku that sensei found, and that means an episode of Kiko, Sukeroku, Miyokichi, and small Konatsu.