Miss my previous review? You can find it here.
With his troubled past still clanging behind him like a string of rusty old cans, Yotaro confronts the head of his old gang in order to clear the air and confirm a nagging suspicion of his. Despite his rank of shun’ichi, the confrontation could still invite disaster if he crosses the mob boss…with a loud mouth like Yotaro, what could possibly go wrong?
Episode 3 opens with Yotaro practicing a routine outside of a boat-party that features a tirade of seemingly meaningless insults. His recent acquaintance Higuchi ponders aloud what some of the words mean, and also challenges him to confront the rumors about him head on so he can move on with his professional career. Things move rather quickly when, upon docking the ship, Yotaro hears that a detective has made his way into the geisha house where Konatsu works just as his old yakuza Boss was about to host a meeting, and the mistress heads over to smooth things out. Seeing an opportunity to confront his old boss and clear the air, Yotaro rushes over and finds his former leader, who admits that the mistress of the geisha house and the yakuza Boss have been carrying on a fling of their own. Yotaro barges in on the mistress and the Boss, sharing his frustration at the injustice of having to go away to prison and take the fall for someone else.
Alluding to the threats made against his father, as well as his father’s untimely demise shortly after he went to prison, you can tell that he has been harboring a deep resentment towards this man for separating him from his family. The Boss picks up on this as well and warns Yotaro to cool off, forcing him out a nearby door into the shallow lake outside. Konatsu, honestly fearful for their lives, pleads with the Boss to spare them and forgive Yotaro – but he doesn’t remember asking for forgiveness.
Cutting to the chase, Yotaro concludes that Konatsu’s son Shinnosuke (Shin for short) actually is the Boss’s son, but after reciting the impassioned tirade he had been practicing on the ship, Yotaro tells him never to come after Shin as his son and to let them live their lives peacefully. The Boss relents, saying that Yotaro’s confrontation was “as it should be”.
Able to focus on their family, episode 4 follows Yotaro, Konatsu and Shin ~5 years into the future. Shin is now a precocious kindergartner who has been taken in by everyone at the theater, where the only man he’s known as his father fills the seats daily, and even has regular spots on TV.
Seriously – the kid is friggin’ adorable and as a result the adults are all putty in his hands. We get to see Yotaro enjoying the fruits of his labor as his consistent practice and hard work has resulted in an explosion of popularity as he sells out the theater regularly, with Yakumo performing the occasional main act to really drum up business.
Konatsu is hard at work on her musical talents accompanying Yotaro’s rakugo with the shamisen. Learning more complicated songs with each passing week, she still has insecurities surrounding rakugo and performing on her own. Invited to perform at their son’s kindergarten, Yotaro and Konatsu are delighted to accept as they work to bring the joy of rakugo to a new generation.
After Yotaro gets the kids nice and riled up, he surprises Konatsu by telling her that she should perform the signature story “Jugemu” for the crowd of excited children. “You never get a crowd like this!” he exclaims as he pushes Konatsu onto the stage and she performs her first public rakugo ever.
Unsurprisingly, she does fantastically well. So well that Yotaro once again implores her to do her own rakugo. Despite her own positive experience, Konatsu refuses, stating that it’s an art that men have refined over many years and that it would be unfair of her to interfere with that world. When Yotaro presses again, Konatsu shoots him a death glare that would incinerate any mere mortal, and her husband smartly drops the subject.
The episode ends with Yakumo looking at Sukeroku’s old fan as a mysterious figure sits in the foreground. Are Yakumo’s ghosts continuing to haunt him? Or is there a new visitor set to disrupt the Eighth Generation’s life?
Episode 3 was fun, largely because it was great to see Yotaro stand up for Konatsu and help to establish their little family. Even in the face of a fearsome mob boss he was able to declare that Shin would be his son and that was that. Though his stubbornness is a vice that Konatsu would love to be rid of most days, you can tell that she has sincere appreciation and love for her partner by the end of the episode. She regrets the circumstances that led to her involvement with the mob boss, but she can now laugh and enjoy her life as long as Yotaro is in it.
Episode 4 was a real crowd pleaser on multiple levels. You’ve got the adorable Shin reveal, Yotaro in top form and highly successful, not to mention Konatsu’s moment in the spotlight. The focus on the family as a continuation of the rakugo tradition certainly is coming into focus, though my optimism and happiness is reserved largely due to the fact we’ve got another two months to go and if 5 years can pass in a week, there’s a lot that can happen in the next 8.
One more thing – I’m increasingly interested in the ever lingering background story surrounding Higuchi’s attempt to create new rakugo works. Seeing that rakugo is dying out, not necessarily because of the medium, but because the stories no longer resonate with people, Higuchi wishes to get Yakumo’s blessing to create new rakugo for Yotaro to perform. In both episodes 3 and 4 it appears that Higuchi is not making much headway, but it’s still early in the season, and intriguing to see where it may go and what this rakugo might look and sound like if and when it’s brought to life by Yotaro or, heaven forbid, Yakumo himself.
Showa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu continues to prove itself as a contemplative and well-structured series that uniquely communicates the power of one storytelling medium (Rakugo) with another (animation). A must-watch this season, without a doubt.