Descending Stories: Shōwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjū
by Gabriella Ekens,
How would you rate episode 10 of
Descending Stories: Showa Genroku Rakugo Shinju ?
Community score: 4.8
If this is a fake out, then it's a cruel one. But if Yakumo is really dead, well, then that's even crueler. I know that I've spent every write-up so far harping on how time is running out for this tired old man, but I didn't expect his reconciliation with Konatsu to occur literal minutes before the end. It's not even a hospice scene where everyone knows that he's passing! He just closes his eyes during a happy moment with his family, and it's all over. Or maybe not. We'll find out next week. Honestly, I'm having trouble forming cogent thoughts about this episode - I spent most of it wailing at my television screen, first in delight, and then in painful incredulity.
I'll run it down from the top. The action continues mere moments from last week, when Yotaro was carrying Yakumo out of the burning theater. Yakumo had (probably) attempted suicide-by-fire in the middle of a private performance of Shinigami, wherein he confronted the death wish hidden beneath his idealization of his lost love. The two of them managed to escape, but the theater is toast, marking the end for that storied site of live performance. Yakumo's role in the fire is Obviously Sketchy, but the theater owner has decided not to investigate out of consideration for the venerable master's history with the venue. This first scene, which takes place in the immediate aftermath, consists of various characters mourning the theater and reflecting on what it meant to them. Interestingly, the youngest characters are the saddest to see it go, while the older ones are more at peace with this turn of events. This is all, of course, preparing us for the episode's conclusion, which delivers a much more devastating loss.
But before that, there's some much-needed joy. Some time has passed, and Yakumo has evidently recovered somewhat. In a scene straight out of a rakugo routine, Konatsu tries to get Yotaro to realize that she's pregnant, only to have to straight-up tell him when he doesn't catch on. That's right - there's going to be another baby! This time, it'll be without the complicating factor of mysterious gangster paternity. It's all Yotaro's! I guess their relationship had been warming up for a while. I like how this is all implied visually before Konatsu says it. Her eating that dango was definitely suggestive. There's been a serious lack of phallic imagery in Showa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu's second season, now that it's about Yakumo being Tired and Old rather than Gay and Repressed, but this was its return in top form. Cock talk aside, I'm super happy for the two of them. They're a nonstandard anime romance, and it's been a joy to watch these two fall in love over the course of their maturation and co-parenting.
Then there's The Big Scene, the one that I have been waiting for - Konatsu and Yakumo's reconciliation. It's a long conversation that plays out in large part symbolically, so I'll run through it beat by beat. It begins with Yakumo regretting that he didn't plant a cherry tree in the garden during Konatsu's youth, as he notes that it would be fully grown by now. Emotionally, this speaks to how he discouraged Konatsu's ambitions to perform rakugo as a child. Had he allowed her to, she would have been a brilliant performer at the height of her career by now. This is the first time that we've ever seen Yakumo express regret over this, so it functions as a veiled apology. As the scene plays out, a cherry branch is on display in a vase in the foreground, telling us that Konatsu is now beginning her career in the middle of her life. It also suggests that Yakumo is making the initial overtures toward them having a healthy relationship, late in his life. In Japanese flower language, cherry blossoms symbolize rebirth, life's fragility, and family. Their presence throughout this scene underscores its discussion of turning over a new leaf at an advanced point in life.
Yakumo states that he no longer feels any pain. Supposedly, this is in reference to his burns, but on a deeper level, it indicates that he's finally come to terms with the events of 30 years ago. In reaching out to Yotaro during the fire, it seems that Yakumo successfully overcame his death wish. He now realizes how much life he wasted in nursing his self-loathing. At the same time, he finds himself strangely contented and no longer wishes to perform, since that had mostly become a way of working through his anguish. He no longer speaks ill of Miyokichi, having likely realized that he projected his negative feelings onto her image. Instead, Yakumo cites both Sukeroku and Miyokichi as the most precious parts of his early life.
Once again, Konatsu brings up that he “killed her parents.” Yakumo runs through his survivor's guilt once again, and Konatsu concludes the conversation in the usual way, by stating that Yakumo “should have died too.” She stares daggers at him, and Yakumo responds that he couldn't, seeing as he had to take care of her. Konatsu finally breaks down, revealing her deepest pain – the fear that she's a burden to Yakumo, that he always wanted to be free of her so that he could kill himself. Yakumo pushes away these thoughts, telling her that he loves her and he never regretted raising her.
If this is the end, the big issue with it is that Konatsu still doesn't know the real story of her parents' deaths. She really deserves to know, and it's only going to be harder for her to hear it now that (if) Yakumo is gone. But then again, that might be the point. Life rarely offers perfect solutions to these sorts of tangled familial situations, especially when they involve old age and multigenerational trauma. Considering everything that they've been through, it's a triumph for them to admit that that they still love each other enough to try moving forward. They may never get any more than this, but Yakumo has completed his most important tasks – apologizing to his daughter, reaffirming his love for her, and ending their relationship on a positive note. It could've gone so much worse than this. Instead, he gets to pass listening to Nozarashi, with his daughter by his side, as the grandson of Sukeroku, and Miyokichi, and even Kikuhiko showers them with flower petals. It's not quite hellfire.
So yes, crying. I broke when Konatsu revealed that she's pregnant, and then when Konatsu asked Yakumo to make her his apprentice, and then when Yakumo laughed happily for the first time in his miserable life, as well as five or six more times during that big long conversation. Showa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu is a masterpiece. I mean, I guess that it could still implode in the next few episodes, but barring that, it's a masterpiece. Just don't bring Sukeroku back from the dead as a zombie or something, or else I'll have to eat my hat. A show this good only comes out once every few years. It's been a pleasure to watch it as it airs, and it's been an untold privilege to write about it. Yakumo may be gone (emphasis on the may), but life goes on regardless, and I doubt that the series will end without showing us how us how its other characters cope. As for the hero, it's finally time for him to reunite with some old friends...
Gabriella Ekens studies film and literature at a US university. Follow her on twitter.
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