Fairy tales of yesterday will grow but never die
I can fly, my friends
The show must go on.
Did the lyrics of the late, great, and the time, dying Freddy Mercury come to mind while watching this episode? As it turns out, it’s up to Yotaro to take his master’s place and make sure the show goes on, even while disaster goes on in the background and he’s plagued with worry and dread. The moment where he turned to Konatsu, pointed to the curtains where the unaware crowd waited, and told her that he had to stay, was one of my favourites of his. We’ve seen him been put through the ringer and make mistakes and show weakness, but that expression perfectly captured how terrified he was, knowing that he had to stay behind. He had to do it for rakugo, and more importantly, for Yakumo. That look he gave him could be read in many ways, but my interpretation is that he was telling Yotaro to keep on performing. And that appears to be what he took from that look as well. He wanted to be by his master’s side more than anything, but the determination he showed in episode was what makes him so loveable.
Yotaro never dropped the act or showed his signs of weakness to the unknowing, but once you know what we, the viewers, know, you’d realise that him skipping the introduction, his constant sweating, and his rush to leave the stage at the end are signs that behind his performance he was desperate to leave. But he stayed, and we were given the first uninterrupted rakugo performance of the season. It’s an odd one to watch, because both the viewer and Yotaro are clearly thinking about what just happened with Yakumo, yet we have to stick around and get what immersion we can from the show. It’s damn impressive that even if for a minute, I managed to forget about everything else and enjoy the story due to Yotaro’s delivery. Rakugo Shinjuu often makes us sit through these lengthy performances at the best and worst of times, like when Yotaro gave his first show where everyone watching was nervous he would make a mistake, or when Yakumo in his youth gave the most embarrassing show of his life and we had to sit through every second of it. This time around it was as if we were told there was a fire in the building but we couldn’t leave until the rakugo was over.
Hii-san does make an astute observation with Yotaro’s style of storytelling. He points out that Yakumo uses rakugo as a vessel for his stories, which makes sense given he has little personal love for the medium. Meanwhile, Sukeroku’s own personality is so strong that it came through in every one of his performances, of every character and object; he gave the audiences what they wanted, and he did it well. And then there’s Yotaro, whose strength as that his own existence fades when it comes to rakugo. He’s there, but he’s also every one of the characters all at once, not affected or skewered by his own personal intentions. He’s the best narrator of all, and perhaps the most immersive for general audiences. Where Yakumo sometimes appears cold, and Sukeroku too full of energy to give more nuanced performances, Yotaro’s talent is his ability to appear invisible to the audience. Funnily enough, the rakugo performer I saw last year also had this style of storytelling. One minute he was this tall, large, white, American man with an obvious accent, and the next we was his characters, and Yotaro does just that.
Rakugo aside, it’s revealed that Yakumo is still alive, but is clearly ill. It’s all guesswork if we’re to assume he’ll step onto the stage any more. After his heart attack, he looks like a changed man; a man who was faced with death and refused entry to the afterlife. He saw his best friend in the world, heard his voice for the first time in decades, and was face to face with the woman who personifies all his mistakes. By his final words in this episode, it seems like he’s almost saddened that he’s still alive. Yakumo is a man who is ready to die, which is going to take his story in an equally depressing and interesting direction. I don’t know how it’s going to end, but I wouldn’t put suicide off the table, especially given the story he told Yotaro and Konatsu about Sukeroku and Miyokichi. It would be both poetic and fitting given the downward spiral of his health and how distant his mind must be from his body.
There other details to consider like the renovations of the rakugo theatre, which is now being discussed with Yakumo out of the picture. I can’t imagine that traditional stubborn senior would warm to the idea, but I appreciated that both positives and negatives were given to the argument. That place holds a lot of memories, especially as the last one still standing. In the end, I expect it will be up to Yotaro to decide the course of actions, which will likely reflect with the modern trends in rakugo and adapting to the new era.
Finally, I’d like to talk about next week. I already know what’s going to happen because I was spoiled almost a year ago – it’s one of the few plot details that has been given away, and even though I wish I never knew, it’s going to make the episode all that more exciting when it comes. With the recording of Sukeroku’s final performance before his death, it looks like we’re going to be jumping back in time to that unfortunate day that haunts Yakumo still. It’s going to be powerful, and even with what little I do know, I’m confident it could be another contender for the best episode of the series.