Kyoji, fresh out of prison, is desperate to start a new life. Remembering an actor who performed for inmates during their incarceration, he had made the decision to seek out the man who ignited his love for rakugo theatre. Upon finding him, he begs to become an apprentice. The performer reluctantly agrees, despite having never taken on a student before. Kyoji starts to live with him, and the daughter of his late acting partner, who has inherited her father’s talent but cannot perform because she is a woman.
Despite its niche appeal, Showa Genroku Rakugo Shinju seems to do a good job of immersing the audience into the world of rakugo. As an endangered art form at risk of dying out, rakugo theatre is a comedic method of storytelling where a single actor takes on the personas of multiple characters with only a couple of props and mannerisms to tell them apart. Even if Kyoji already knows about this type of performance, he is still a novice so the viewers are experiencing his education at the same time and learning as they go along. It is a story reliant on context, and it’s impossible to separate from Japanese culture so it may be hard for Western audiences to completely understand everything, but it’s enjoyable nonetheless. Because rakugo is such a historic form of theatre, it has the effect of timelessness. The series is set in the Showa period, in the 1970s, but it could easily be set any time in the last fifty years. In talking about the gender politics of traditional entertainment, this adds an interesting element and makes Konatsu’s struggle to uphold her father’s legacy one of the better parts of this anime so far. The first episode is twice the length of an average episode, but it definitely needs the extra screen-time to include as much actual performance as possible and properly introduce the audience to rakugo.
Dagashi Kashi: While tonally different, both anime bring traditional Japanese culture to a contemporary audience.
Other than that, Rakugo Shinju feels unfamiliar, but in a good way. It’s refreshing to be immersed in something completely new.
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