Descending Stories: Showa Genroku Rakugo Shinju Volume 5
After spending most of books 2-4 on flashbacks to the 1940s-50s apprenticeship of two young rakugo artists, Descending Stories: Showa Genroku Rakugo Shinju volume 5 wraps up that story tragically. (Rakugo is a monologue storytelling performance.) We find out what happened to the talented but erratic Sukeroku and how his fellow apprentice Yakumo wound up with his daughter Konatsu.
Just as Yakumo has come to new understanding about the nature of connection and the need for other people in one’s life, an unhappy person ruins all the plans and causes a huge setback. Which explains a lot about the bad attitudes and passion we first saw in the first book.
Unfortunately, I found myself disappointed by how quickly events moved in the modern day story, and how marginalized the women have become. I was attracted, originally, by how Konatsu wanted to carry on her dead father’s work in the art of rakugo, in spite of it being only for men. That plotline has been completely forgotten now that she’s pregnant, and she’s handed off to another character as a result. The second chapter in the present day jumps ahead to her having had the child and showing up just to be grumpy. She’s changed from character to plot device — or maybe she always was, and I just had hopes for more.
The older time period story revolves around a woman as well, but she never became three-dimensional to me. Her actions were unbelievable at time, without sufficient grounding to seem realistic. This is very much a story about sacrifice for art, and since the art is restricted to men, they’re the ones who are vibrant and believable, although with the time jumps, there’s less of that as well.
One part that did resonate for me was a page where Yakumo is named head of the rakugo association, saying, “I’ve reached the top at last. The oldest of them all…. I haven’t changed a bit, but everything around me has changed.” He’s outlasted the others, a feeling I could relate to as I look back at running this site for almost 20 years. Sometimes it’s just about sticking around.