Sukeroku’s Swan Song:
This settles it. This show is a masterpiece. Week after week we were building up to the grand finale of this flashback, and even when we all knew what was going to happen, it was still beautiful and devastating to watch. But before I dive into the latter half of the episode, I’d like to shed some light on Sukeroku’s swan song, and how it was the perfect story for him to tell in that moment. With Konatsu watching and Yakumo listening from the sidelines, we get another proper full-length performance – I wouldn’t say it was as funny as Yotaro’s in the first episode, or as well-earned as Yakumo’s mid way through the season, but I definitely think this was the right story for Sukeroku to tell. While he specialises in slapstick comedy, he went for something more meaningful – something that is relevant to his life and what he’s going through, as it’s practically his life story with Miyokichi.
It’s the story of a man who won’t get up to do his job, who finds himself in luck when he encounters a large sum of money, using it as an excuse to live how he likes. But once he’s told that the money he found was all a dream and he’s got himself in debt, he changes. He goes out of his way to become a better man over several years, until his wife finally tells him the truth of the washed up purse – that it was real all along. That she lied to stop him from becoming the man she feared he would become. And his reaction to that lie? He was thankful; thankful because it made him the man he wanted to be. There were some gags here and there which made the audience giggle a few times, but it was the most thoughtful performance we’ve seen him give, which makes it even more poignant knowing it would be his last.
The Inevitable Tragedy:
And that brings us to the big events of the episode (and the series as a whole): the deaths of Sukeroku and Miyokichi. We knew it was coming from day one, yet the details always remained blurry. I had my own expectations going into the episode, but I have to say this turned out so much better than I thought. I could honestly write a few thousands words unpacking how powerful this scene is and how wonderfully written each of these characters are, but I’ll save myself the finger cramps and just say that it was a perfect finish. Now the title makes perfect sense: “Shouwa and Genroku Era Lover’s Suicide Through Rakugo”. Many were wondering what the “lover’s suicide” would entail, but it always seemed clear to me that it referred to Sukeroku and Miyokichi, as they were the two characters we knew died. But it’s also possible to read Miyo’s initial intentions as the true lover’s suicide.
Speaking of Miyo, I loved how she was depicted in this episode. She came in like a woman with a mission, only to return to the arms of the man she loves and turn soft when confronted with the situation at hand. I do think she intended to die there and take someone with her, but not in the way she expected. Her reaction to Sukeroku’s desperate words came off as sincere despite everything they’ve been through. She explains to Yakumo how quickly she went off Sukeroku, for all the reasons that were made clear in last week’s episode. And like I said, her reasons are valid, even if it meant abandoning her daughter like she did (which is still a terrible thing). She’s made some horrible decisions and is fuelled by rage and passion, but she showed some humanity in her final moments, her body shaking as she was about to meet her end, seemingly accepting Sukeroku’s promises.
Oh, Sukeroku. Poor Sukeroku. All of this has been building up to his death, so even when he delivered a wonderful performance, I couldn’t help but think “When is he going to die?”. Just as he is returning to the rakugo world, everything goes horribly wrong. After hearing Miyo’s honest feelings about their relationship, he had a sudden change of heart, promising he would do as the man in his story did. Perhaps this moment would have felt more sudden if not for the rakugo performance before it, but because we did get to hear that heartfelt story from Sukeroku, it all works on a thematic level, except we all knew it wasn’t going to play out like that.
So while Sukeroku promised he would change, and Miyokichi seemed to be accepting his words, Yakumo is caught in the middle of this mess. His life is threatened by the woman who adores him, after licking up her tears (which was a pretty WTF moment), proving that there was still some feelings between the pair. He tells Miyo that he thinks this all his fault, and she agrees. And while I do think his actions added fuel to the fire, it doesn’t take away the poor decisions of every other character leading up to this climactic finish. Yakumo sees this as an oppertunity to bring everyone back together and live happily ever after in Tokyo, but before issues can be resolved and the air cleared, the balcony breaks. From the opening shots of the episode I knew it must be somehow involved, and in her weakest moment, Miyokichi takes a tumble. Sukeroku calls out her real name (Yurie – which was the first time Yakumo ever heard it) and catches her. Yakumo holds on to them both for as long as he can before Sukeroku accepts his fate. It all happened so fast, and at the end of it all there was no attempted murder, as had been hinted at in the first episode or with Miyokichi’s suspicious glances earlier in the one. But for as striking as the whole sequence was, it’s Sukeroku’s haunting final words that still ring in my ears:
One Grand Rakugo Performance:
More than anything, this final scene – and this flashback as a whole – feels like one long, detailed, funny, endearing, hopeful yet terribly tragic rakugo performance. We’ve seen Yakumo from childhood to adulthood, watched him form that difficult yet unbreakable bond with Sukeroku, fall in love with an unfortunate soul, and had to accept the title which he never felt he deserved. From the moment Yakumo and Miyo are alone in that room, it turns into a theatrical performance that would be fitting for a stage play, depicting this tragedy in the most romantic fashion possible, just in time for us – the audience – to dab our teary eyes and gush over how glorious it was to behold.
Overview – What’s Next?:
I have never come across an anime where the three leads are equally compelling, complicated, loveable, and detestable. I’ve tried racking my brain to think of any as developed as Yakumo, Sukeroku, and Miyokichi in just 12 episodes, but there are none. As I’ve said several times before, they feel less like characters and more like real people; complicated people who make bad choices and are fuelled by passion and lust and who end up making things worse for themselves and everyone around them. Shouwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu simply wouldn’t be the same without the three of them. They have made this arc what it is: a masterpiece.
The sad news is there is only one episode left. However, we’re going to be returning to the present! After 12 weeks we’re going to see Yotaro and (adult) Konatsu again, and I can’t wait. The premiere fooled us into thinking the story would be entirely about them, which took me by surprise at first, but I quickly came to love Yakumo’s life story, and realise now why we had to see it unfold the way it did. I can only hope next week won’t be the last we see of this series and of these characters. By the looks of it we’ve jumped a few years ahead in the present time, as Yakumo now has a full head of white hair, Yotaro has shaved his, and Konatsu’s has grown out. I look forwarding to seeing them together again, but I’m sad to see the inevitable tragedy of Sukeroku come to an end. His death is an injustice, but his passing is sure to drive the remaining cast on their own journeys ahead.