Shouwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu: Performing a Story

[My thoughts on Showa Genroku Rakugou Shinjuu]

Screenshot 2017-04-23 09.26.04Centred on the classical Japanese art of Rakugo – storytelling – Shouwa Genroku tells the story of two storytellers, bound to their art and trying to navigate their place in a changing world. It’s a rather simple plot but beautifully animated and acted, and quite charming in a rustic, old-fashioned sort of way.

Screenshot 2017-04-23 09.28.07.pngThere’s something intriguing about Shouwa Genroku, possibly in the sense that it’s a story within a story. It’s hard to put into words, but there are layers of narratives going on and the storytelling itself is perfect, from the pacing to the characterisation. It took me a while to decide who the main character of this story was. That’s probably because all of them, particularly the apprentices Kikuhiko and Sukeroku, are very convincing as characters. The contrast in their personalities is sharpened over time, through the trials that they face – the war, the withering popularity of Rakugo, the affection of the Geisha, Miyokichi, and the conflict over succeeding their master as the next “significant someone” in Rakugo.

Screenshot 2017-04-23 10.09.55.pngMiraculously, Kikuhiko and Sukeroku manage to not loathe each other, and while their friendship may wax and wane, it’s always there, even when one of them isn’t anymore. To be honest, I dislike both characters but I can appreciate how well they are written and performed. They are such flawed people – selfish, prideful, and wholly focussed on their own little woes. Through these characters, the story always skirts around the edges of revelation, using their expressions and dialogues to illustrate their inner turmoil – it’s the classic ‘show-not-tell’ technique put to rather good use. Showa Genroku tells us a bit but shows us a lot more.

Screenshot 2017-04-23 09.45.56.pngI will admit that I never fell in love with Shouwa Genroku; in fact, I’m not even sure that I liked it and it’s so far from the type of stories that I usually enjoy. There’s no action, or comedy or mystery and it wasn’t thrilling or exciting. It’s a well done plot, but it’s plain and pretty predictable (obviously because it’s a flashback for the most part) and while I found them realistic (or maybe even because I found them realistic) I didn’t like any of the characters.

Screenshot 2017-04-23 19.34.12.pngNevertheless, I did watch the show till the end because I did appreciate how well the story had been executed. It felt like such a fragile and transient thing. Shouwa Genroku transported me to a different era, not too long ago but so very distant, to a time-worn theatre vaguely enfolded in soft yellow lights where a deep voice cut through the echo of strings. In a changing world, Rakugo seemed to have no place but perhaps that’s what made it precious, and that’s why I kept watching it.

It does require a certain measure of patience to watch this show though, and probably even more to enjoy it. I had enough of the former but not the latter and if you think you are patient enough, you might want to watch this. And if you have watched it, feel free to leave a comment.

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