In the end, all great stories are just well told lies.
And here we have it: The big reveal. The twist that no one saw coming, unless you, like me, were spoiled for this detail minutes after the deaths of Sukeroku and Miyokichi last season. Some manga readers just couldn’t contain themselves, and while browsing discussion forums I came across spoilers that I wish I hadn’t seen. All this time, I knew that Miyokichi in fact stabbed Sukeroku, and that the version that Yakumo told Yotaro and Konatsu was fictitious, making the situation so much more romantic than it actually was. I wish I hadn’t known so I could be as shocked as many are right now, but knowing the truth all along has had its rewards. I knew the meaning behind Miyokichi’s presence in the OP, and I read every scene with Yakumo as so much more tragic than we were initially led to believe. He was willing to take this secret to the grave, to be the villain, all to keep the gruesome and tragic truth hidden. But now the cat is out of the bag, though the girl who gave that final push is none the wiser.
I was floored by the version of events that Yakumo told at the end of last season, but I knew others felt it didn’t fit with the tone of the series up until that point – that it almost felt too fairytale like to be believable. And guess what, they were right. What they perceived as bad writing was a calculated ruse, told from the perspective of an unreliable narrator who makes a living out of telling stories. He sells tragedies with a wicked smile, and this was the greatest story of all. We don’t know when exactly the truth becomes fiction in his version of events, but we can piece together that when Miyokichi arrived that day to the performances, she came with a vengeance.
So in the end Miyokichi was the villain that everyone thought she would be. She was the bad bitch who came and ruined everything. But she was also an innocent and sweet girl in her youth who worked as an assistant at that very inn where she would later die. She knew Hii from when he was little and treated him like an adorable little brother. She and her family them moved to Manchuria, and over the war-torn years her family died and she was left stranded. She had to fend for herself, sell her body, appease men to stay alive. When she returned to Japan, she was a changed woman – a scorned woman who saw the grimness of the world and wasn’t the pretty young girl that she seemed on the outside. Hii saw her once more when she was deep in love with her Kikuhiko, and there we have it, in case you thought she was always plotting this and was a cruel mistress from the start. She loved Yakumo. Loved him more than she should have, after every horror she experienced at the hands of men. That’s why when he cast her aside in the way he did, he set off a chain of events that he had no means to prevent.
The debate in the comments two weeks ago about whether Miyokichi is a feminist character was an interesting one to have (you can read my full thoughts here), especially since I knew the truth of that night all along. I suspect even those who thought fondly of her and didn’t hate her like the majority of viewers do will now feel much less sympathy for her, but even knowing that she stabbed Sukeroku, I don’t hate her. Not one bit. Yakumo may be the best-written character of the series (and after this episode, perhaps one of the best-written characters in anime/manga as a whole), but my heart is absolutely with Miyokichi. In my introduction post for RandomC, I mentioned that I loved characters that aren’t often appreciated, or are even hated. Heck, Sansa Stark is my favourite fictional character ever. I make life harder for myself for trying to defend these difficult-to-comprehend characters. Miyokichi doesn’t have the depth and focus that Sansa does, but I disagree with those who think she’s nothing more than a plot device or is an example of a badly written female character. She anything of the sort. She is a woman who has suffered through so much, survived, was the victim of love, had agency when it came to her own long-lasting revenge in stealing Sukeroku from Yakumo, but who still wasn’t satisfied until she took her one true love to Hell with her.
We don’t know the exact events prior to Konatsu arriving to the scene, but my assumption is that Miyokichi didn’t intend to hurt Sukeroku. They were still married at that point, even if distant. That look she gave when she watched Yakumo perform now makes sense. That was the look of someone prepared to kill. Maybe she just wanted to hurt him, but from what we saw she didn’t kill Sukeroku either; he was still able to move swift enough to come to her rescue before falling to his death with her. In the end, the love he had for kicked in despite everything that occurred in that room, and when Konatsu pushed her mother off that balcony in a fit of rage, he went with her. And Yakumo, in that defining moment, chose to grab onto Konatsu to stop her from tumbling with them. So in truth, it was Konatsu who killed her parents, and Yakumo who saved her, and Yakumo who in turn kept that from her for her own good. She’s hated him her entire life, and he’s lived with that for her benefit, which adds a whole other layer to his already fully-realised and compelling character arc.
If you paid attention, you’d have noticed the discrepancies in Konatsu’s gory memories from the premiere compared to the fictional events that Yakumo claimed took place. Funnily enough, I never saw anyone piece those two things together, yet the evidence was there all along. I expect many are still in shock over this revelation, and I don’t blame them. It changes everything, for all of our characters. It shows that Miyokichi was prepared to kill, even if she wept her apologies when she stabbed the wrong man. It shows that Hii, who looked up to her from when he was young and who is only part of this story because of her, will have lingering and complicated feelings for Yakumo now that he knows the truth. It means Matsuda may face consequences for revealing what Yakumo has tried to hide for so long. It means Sukeroku’s final moments were even more tragic than Yakumo’s fairytale made it appear. It means Konatsu is a murderer, whether she knows it or not. As for Yotaro, it means he loves her, now more than ever before. And by that final embrace it appears she’s grown used to his company as well. They seem like a genuine man and wife now, and in the five episode that remain I cannot wait to see where their relationship goes.
Will Konatsu ever find out the truth? If so, how would she take it? I would guess horribly, and would cause her to take drastic actions and reflect on everything she’s done as a mistake. She doesn’t need to know, but I’m keen to see whether she will find out or will be left in the dark forevermore. Will Yakumo die before the series ends? He promises that he will never perform again, with his weak voice and his fear of shame after what just happened. We’ve followed this man’s life for several decades, and as cruel as it may sound, I hope he does die before it’s all over. This is his life story, and seeing him reach the end of it would be the best ending of all, allowing for Yotaro to take the helm and bring rakugo to the greatness that Sukeroku once dreamed and that Yakumo constantly feared.
This story is so rich. So layered. So beautifully and tragically written. Every character feels real and vital and it’s like watching a grand yet intimate epic unfold over many, many years. I don’t want it to end, but after this episode, it feels like we’re getting close to that inevitable conclusion.