An art, any art, owes its continued existence to three things: the wisdom of the masters, the persistence of the performers, and the determination and ambition of the students. If any one of these three is left out of the equation, then the art is doomed to fade. Episode 8 of Shouwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu is not just about keeping the first of the necessary ingredients alive and kicking, but to restore an old man’s faith in his art and in his family.
The latest episode of Showa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu was a bit about everything. It was about Yotaro and his Inokori performance; it was about Konatsu and the exploration of her own feelings; it was about the people who love rakugo and the feelings that it spawns. But there was a sun around which all of these themes orbited, and that sun is our main protagonist, the storyteller whose greatest story is still impacting the rest of the characters.
Once again, the noble but quite obnoxious master tries to kill himself. ‘I love this world too much to die,’ he admits, ‘but I’ll never reach the god of performance until I do.’ His reasons fall into the dead ears of Konatsu who is not one to draw any punches, ‘You can’t do your own rakugo anymore so you’re willing to throw it all away and escape?’ It is about escape for Yakumo. No matter what lies he chooses to tell himself, the reason he wants to leave this world has two sides: one side is the pain of the past, a pain of losing his brother, his family, his lover. The other side is the pain of a rakugo he can’t perform anymore, ‘You don’t know how it feels to have your own body rotting away.’ In an amazing moment where the student and the master change their roles, Yotaro offers an advice that sounded more like a realization, ‘Rakugo is something you can always go back to if you want. You can’t force it out of you.’ In a ‘I have too much of Sukeroku inside of me’, Yotaro reminded the old master that whatever he decides, however he wants to exit this awful stage, the truth of rakugo and the truth that comes with the people that are his family and the people that are his friends will stay the same.
That truth is portrayed vividly in Matsuda’s ploy. A private gathering of all the people dearest to the master for a very personal performance. This scene was full of love, full of passion. It was the marriage of the past with the present, as the latter acknowledges the former’s existence and then steps confidently into the future. Yotaro performs Sukeroku’s Inokori, finally earning that name to the fullest; that name that also adorns Yakumo’s personal fan.
Once I start crying, I can’t stop it
The people in this room (and the people who could have been in this room if they were alive) are his family, his friends; they are his whole life. Konatsu playfully sticks her tongue out when she is asked if she played any role in this; she herself has found in the shamisen her own place in this world she loves so much. She has also found a father in Yakumo and a husband in Yotaro. And they all have found value in Yakumo’s storytelling. They all want him to keep doing rakugo until his last dying breath (ok, that sounded a little wrong, but you know what I mean). Just like Yotaro says:
We want you to enjoy rakugo just like you did back then
Yakumo just needed a push, and as his eyes betrayed as he walked on the stage, the message was well received. This is his life: his friends, his family, and rakugo. You don’t abandon your life. You just don’t.
There’s a sky that only those in our trade ever see… [I better perform] before this becomes a dream…
Mangetsu and Kyoto rakugo: I felt kinda proud (with no reason whatsoever) when I saw Mangetsu explaining the knacks of the Kyoto school of rakugo. I don’t want to diminish the important job he has as a doctor, but it’s usually our calling to the arts that gives food to our inner daemon, that nurtures our genius. I am so glad for any Mangetsu out there who trusts art and goes down that often hurtful path.
Rakugo’s a terrifying thing…
Kotaro: Yotaro’s disciple looks so innocent and eager! Maybe a bit too eager, and that reminds me of both Kiko-kun and Yotaro-chan when they were disciples themselves. The Circle of Life, people; the Circle of rakugo. I would love to see Yotaro growing old and Kotaro having his own disciple. I am taking this a bit too far, I know, but I love this everlasting sequence that comes with art and apprentices.
Happy Sensei and His Dog: Is that a new rakugo story created by our writer? I don’t care if the punchline is really stupid; I want to hear it!
Themes & Trivia
Kyoto Rakugo: Like any art, rakugo has its own conventions and variations. Part artistic differences and part unique ways to express oneself, each of these variations has its own set of distinct characteristics. The main differences of the Kyoto variation and ‘standard’ rakugo (that is the rakugo that originated from Osaka and dominated the scene) are found in the presentation of the story and the tools used. Mangetsu did a good job illustrating the differences and presenting the hizakakushi (the partition screen), and hariogi, the leather fan.
Photos, Films, and Memories: ‘The art you’ve refined doesn’t belong to you alone.’ That is how sensei justified his decision to secretly film Yakumo’s performances. Photos and films are not just sentimental mementos of a time long gone, and certainly they are not just prison cells where the past serves a life sentence of stillness. Photos and films of artistic performances belong to everyone, and they can be used as proof of someone’s passion and skill. If not for these recordings, Yotaro would have never been able to deliver such a passionate Inokori. The past influences the present as the latter changes the future. Everything is connected, whether we want to acknowledge it or not.
I had to look deep into the disproportioned eyes of one of Yakumo’s guests during their own little private performance to notice the drop in animation quality. Did I care? Not much to be honest. I started to care when I saw a similar drop as Yotaro started his Inokori. The animation swiftly took an upward path, and the tears in the end made for an amazing performance. I don’t care about animation flaws as long as they don’t intervene with the rakugoka facial expressions as they perform. The series has animated the story sequences way better, but at least the performance was as enjoyable as ever.
Before this Becomes a Dream
When an artist devotes to express herself through her art, it’s not out of obligation or duty. Sometimes that devotion can be traced to superficial desires, money and fame, but then we are not talking about artists but about entertainers. Yakumo is a true artist, a storyteller that gives the word meaning. How can he take a break from his art? A break from his family? He can’t. He was just a little late in realizing it.