Descending Stories: Shōwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjū
Episode 6

by Gabriella Ekens,

How would you rate episode 6 of
Descending Stories: Showa Genroku Rakugo Shinju ?

Coming off last week, Yotaro, Konatsu, and company are reacting to Yakumo's collapse. While the audience knows that he started hallucinating his old frenemies and took a trip to the spirit realm, it just look like grandpa fell over to these guys, so they have to rush him to the hospital. However, the show must go on, and it's up to Yotaro to deliver his version of Inokori while facing the immense pressure of Yakumo's medical crisis. Miraculously, he pulls it off, but their troubles are hardly over – Yakumo is left in critical condition for a week. When he finally does recover, they're all overjoyed – but now they have to start planning for life with a much more fragile Yakumo.

Plot-wise, this was a slower episode (which makes sense considering the main character was comatose for most of it), mostly filled by a few philosophical discussions on the nature of art. The main speech was Higuchi's, where he argues that rakugo performers can be divided into three categories. The first - Yakumo's - consists of the most refined masters of the art. They possess a vast repertoire of techniques, which they prune and cut for their own personal expressive purposes. They have personality, but it comes across through their selective use of tradition. By contrast, Sukeroku's type doesn't engage in that sort of artistic horticulture. His range is limited compared to Yakumo's, but he's also more innovative and purely expressive. His rakugo is an explosion of personality that cannot be contained, but that also means he can't express personas that aren't ultimately rooted in his worldview. These are both opposed to Yotaro's style, which is all about completely losing himself in other perspectives.

It helps for me to think of this in terms of the thought process that (I assume) these performers take when they set out to prepare a routine. I imagine that Yakumo thinks back to how it was performed in the past and combines different elements to result in the best version. His creativity comes through in the selection and arrangement of these elements in a way that expresses his inner self surreptitiously. Sukeroku thinks more directly about what he would do in the main character's shoes, which works out since he's a ridiculous and hilarious human. To him, art is instinctual self-expression that comes as naturally as breathing. And Yotaro, as we've seen, starts out by imagining what his characters must be like as people. He figures out what their worldview must be in order to justify their actions and uses that to craft three-dimensional characters who are nothing like himself. He approaches rakugo from a position of empathy, with the goal of making the audience feel for the characters and their circumstances. What differentiates his style from the other two is that performing serves as an escape from himself, rather than a direct expression of his own feelings.

This approach is what allows him to perform right after Yakumo has been hospitalized – his immediate emotions don't factor into his performance, unlike Yakumo's and Sukeroku's. The creative aspect of his rakugo comes from how he constructs personas based on the character information present in the written routine. This was at the forefront of his depiction of Saheiji, a rogue and a scoundrel who cons people throughout Inokori. By imagining Saheiji as a fellow storyteller, he managed to convey how deliberately he crafts his fabrications. This stands in contrast to Sukeroku's rendition from way back in season one, where Saheiji came off as a sort of bubbly scam pixie.

All in all, it's an interesting outline for categorizing art. I'm not sure how far I'd take it past the confines of this show, but it's certainly useful for comparing our three main performers. It feels weird to be evaluating critical techniques for the interpretation of art in an episodic write-up, but I guess that's the type of show that Showa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu is at this point. Not much actually happened in this episode besides Yotaro's Inokori performance and those Discussions on the Nature of Art, while Yakumo waits in his coma. The other big conversation concerned the theater's immediate need to be remodeled. The theater owner is nostalgic for the place – dingy as it is – since it bears the weight of so much artistic history. The segment is basically an ode to the physical space of the theater, complete with pans of the gorgeous background art.

As for the other miscellany, Mangetsu is back in action. He takes care of Yakumo following his collapse and seems nostalgic for his days as a performer, although he's still refusing to return to the stage. I suspect that we'll see him back in rakugo form before the end of the series, though. Higuchi has also discovered a filmed recording of Sukeroku performing, which may be at the center of next week's episode. This will be the first time that anyone has seen Sukeroku for thirty years or so, and I'm sure that will bring up some complicated feelings.

Overall, this episode was a bit of a lull for Showa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu. However, it also proves that the show can provide a lot to chew on, even when it's just waiting around. Next week, it looks like we'll be taking a trip back in time to that momentous night that solidified this story in tragedy…

Grade: A-

Descending Stories: Showa Genroku Rakugo Shinju is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.

Gabriella Ekens studies film and literature at a US university. Follow her on twitter.

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