March 19th, 2016.
This show really reminds me of two of the better shows from 2013. The first is Uchouten Kazoku, for its sense of atmosphere, its focus on family, and how old events are what the show revolves about, even if most of the story is told in the now, it’s still under the inescapable shadow of the past. The other show is Kyousougiga, which also focuses on family, and on events that happened in the past (which we actually see much more of), but, it’s also because the show is all about repetition, and how families are themselves about cycles that one can’t break out of. And that’s the sort of storytelling on display in Rakugo Shinju.
I do keep talking about this every week, I feel like, but the show’s most common technique, which was especially on point in last week’s episode, is mirroring. It’s using one action to reflect upon another, especially since we know how some things turned out. The best example from last week was how Bon turned away his hopeful apprentice, telling him he’ll never pick up an apprentice, but also that rakugo is not a path for a decent boy. And then he ends up taking an ex-con as an apprentice, eventually.
And then in this episode, we have Konatsu relaying Miyokichi’s words, that rakugo is not work for honest people, which echoes Bon’s words, and must be part of why he won’t let her perform rakugo later on in life. And of course, Miyokichi is looking for a “decent and honest” job for her daughter, but she herself turns to an indecent life, because it’s the only way she knows to survive.
Speaking of Konatsu, let’s talk of her parents for a moment, all three of them (since we know Bon ended up adopting and raising her). They’re all so selfish. Bon admits his selfishness outright, saying he desires Shin to return to performing for his sake. Shin, while he displays some textbook examples of depression, having lost his rakugo is still drowning in his self-pity, expecting his wife and even child daughter to take care of him and earn money for him. He doesn’t even care why Miyokichi left, nor does he look for her. He just trusts she’ll come back. And Miyokichi,overcome with emotions over finding Bon’s arrived, only thinks of how it affects her own feelings, and doesn’t really think of her husband or daughter, that we can see.
Also speaking of Konatsu, mirroring and selfish adults, as an amusing aside, this moment where Bon goes childish on her and has her pay for her meal is quite funny. Little children can’t handle it when adults mirror their behaviour at them, because all they see is someone else being selfish and taking away from their right to be selfish and at the center of attention, with all the toys ;-)
But to finish on the Konatsu path, it’s important to note what convinced Shin to “return”, or at least agree to it tentatively in the end – it wasn’t for the sake of the audience back home, or the old masters. Meaning it wasn’t for the world of rakugo. It wasn’t even for Bon. It was for his daughter. He came back in one case that broke mirroring, where he decided to do it not for the sake of the past connections, but for the one symbolizing the future. And well, also the present, but Shin’s always been one that’s big on the present.
Going back to mirroring, it’s time to return to two different situations with the show’s main protagonist, Bon, or Kikuhiko, if you wish. In the first, it’s mirroring with his past, and continuing his own growth, as he refers to Shin as “brother”, just as last episode he referred to the master as his “father”, which shows he ended up warming to them (which we also saw when they went on the trip to Manchuria and he missed them), but the point is, he’s growing to understand he can’t be alone.
But we also have a mirroring where one could see it as growth, but it’s more to see how Bon and Shin contrast one another, where Shin acts on this “growing understanding” of Bon and speaks of how one cannot do rakugo on their own. This also fit what finally allowed Bon to blossom as a rakugo performer, where he learned to finally accept rakugo and the audience, and do his rakugo for them.
But there’s a catch, where Shin says you can’t do rakugo without seeing the audience’s faces. But last week we’ve seen the birth of Bon’s greatest performance, “Shinigami” (which was referenced by Yotaro as the performance that moved him to want to pick up rakugo, as well as Shin commenting that Bon looks like a shinigami now, which made Konatsu shiver, and also hinted at the coming deaths). And in that performance, Bon did not see the audience at all, which is what allowed him to create that world. He performs rakugo for the audience, but not with them. He creates a world for them to enter, rather than go out and enter theirs.
And this is another reason he needs Shin. He needs him for himself, because they’re family. But he also needs the mirroring and contrasting, to save rakugo, as they always planned. He calls on him for the sake of the past: Their past closeness, their past pact, and for the sake of bringing rakugo, the relic of the past, to the future. For the sake of Konatsu, its signifier.