Descending Stories: Shōwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjū
by Gabriella Ekens,
How would you rate episode 9 of
Descending Stories: Showa Genroku Rakugo Shinju ?
Community score: 4.8
Red-eyed Sukeroku's return to the opening was the first sign that this wouldn't be a good time for our hero. While the surprise party seems to have dragged Yakumo out of last week's immediate despair, his recovery is hardly complete, as evidenced by his melancholy, defeated demeanor. These various factors coalesce into his second attempt at suicide, as well as the climax of the season so far.
But first, there's the build up. Last week, Yakumo's return to rakugo was sabotaged when the cops showed up to arrest Boss Man. (Yes, I know that he has a name now, but he remains Boss Man to me.) Big Bro says that he was sentenced to six years hard labor, and that at his age, Boss Man might not survive that time. In order to give his friend the final performance he wished for, Yakumo volunteers to perform for the inmates at his prison – an echo of the event that brought him and Yotaro together. Instead of Shinigami, he performs the routine “tachikiri” (that may not be the official name), which brings back the dead-raising incense from Hangon-ko. It's like Yakumo is begging to be ghost-ified at this point, and of course he receives another visit from Miyokichi's specter. Unlike last time, when her image was openly hostile to him, she gives off more of a restrained malice hidden behind a wry smile. While aspects of this scene may suggest some sort of emotional reconciliation between the two, in reality it's anything but. For one thing, Miyokichi's ghost continues to not speak, indicating that she's still just a bundle of Yakumo's own feelings projected onto Miyokichi's image. Likewise, all of Yakumo's dialogue is hostile to her – Miyokichi “stole everything from him,” and now she's come for the rest. In light of all this, it looks like Yakumo has carved out a new psychological justification for his ongoing death wish – this time, he sees himself falling into the arms of a monster who's destined to gobble him up.
It's in this state of pliant submission that Yakumo makes a second attempt at taking his life. We don't know exactly what he originally intended to do when he walked onstage to perform Shinigami before a crowd of empty seats. It may have just been a way of interrogating his own suicidal ideations through his primary way of expressing himself: rakugo. What we do know is that in the delirium of the performance – which culminates in yet another visit from the Ghost of Dead Friends Past – Yakumo tossed a candle into the theater, setting the entire place ablaze. On the one hand, trapping yourself in a burning building seems like a particularly nasty way of shirking the mortal coil, but on the other, Yakumo had make an effort to resolve his personal effects beforehand. He also muttered about wanting to “die performing rakugo” earlier in the episode, a possible hint at his true subconscious plans.
Either way, the whole thing is framed as a fever dream, complete with hallucinatory visits from old friends he finds himself responsible for killing. Evil Sukeroku – who has learned how to talk – shows up as the manifestation of Yakumo's death wish, taunting the guy before morphing into an actual God of Death. This busts open my dichotomy of two Sukerokus (one representing the guy's true feelings, another Yakumo's Bad Thoughts) along the lines of speaking or not-speaking, but I'm still confident in calling this Sukeroku the product of Yakumo's tortured psyche rather than an actual ghost. Evil Suke chides Yakumo on his attachment to others, which has kept him from killing himself for all these years, before setting the place ablaze himself. That's when he sheds his skin – revealing a skeletal shinigami – to embrace his old friend in preparation for death. It would've worked too, if not for that meddling Yotaro. He got wind of what Yakumo was doing somehow (Mangetsu got suspicious and called him, probably) and went running for the theater. He arrives just in time to find his master collapsed inside the burning building. Yotaro reaches out to him, and in the heat of the moment, Yakumo asks to be saved.
Almost burning to death aside, this moment marks a major breakthrough for Yakumo. He's finally reached out to someone in order to prevent his death, rather than passive-aggressively tip-toeing toward salvation. He's not totally out of the woods – his thoughts indicate that he still perceives this suicide attempt as a “failure” – but it's one of the things that's been stopping him from making real progress. In terms of imagery, it's also important that his death wish (embodied in Sukeroku and Miyokichi) is now depicted as external and hostile to him. Yakumo is on the path toward acknowledging his suicidal ideations as an affliction rather than a desire.
The episode cuts off before they make it out of the building, but the next episode preview tells us that they make it out of there alright. The theater is a loss, but then again, it was going to be remodeled anyway. When you look at it that way, Yakumo was doing them a favor! It's highly symbolic that Yakumo tries to take himself out alongside the theater, the physical representation of rakugo's history. Of course, it's ironic that he survives this destruction, which represents how he has to find meaning in his life outside of rakugo; it's too closely related to the prison of self-loathing he's been trapped in for the past 30 years. Judging by the smiling faces on display next episode, it looks like he'll make some progress. There may even be some celebration in the Yurakutei family's future.
With only three or four episodes left, it feels like we may have just seen the darkest point in Yakumo's story. This episode was a frenzied interrogation of Yakumo's death wish, where he made progress in terms of externalizing and rejecting it. I'm sure that the show still has emotional punches to pull, but these therapy sessions will probably be more composed in the future – on Yakumo's part especially.
Gabriella Ekens studies film and literature at a US university. Follow her on twitter.
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