Annalyn’s Corner: Rakugo Shinjuu and Life-Giving Love

Characters receive love and life from each other in Rakugo Shinjuu, but there's an even greater, life-giving love available to us.
Beneath the Tangles | Rakugo Shinjuu and Life-Giving Love

“No matter how I try to wipe it away, your love continues to cling to me.”

—Eight Generation Yakumo, Descending Stories: Shouwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu episode 8

Yakumo, formerly known as Kikuhiko, formerly known as Bon, has never been the most cheerful of men. He has a lifelong habit of pushing people away, only letting them into his life begrudgingly. Perhaps this stems somewhat from abandonment issues—he was still young when the only family he’d ever known apprenticed him to the Seventh Generation Yakumo because his leg made him unfit for dancing. The death of loved ones later in his life doesn’t help matters, especially since he blames their deaths partly on himself. But he still longs for companionship and still recognizes that, while he might not value his life for himself, others need and want him. The younger generation won’t let him forget how much they love him, or how much they value him and his rakugo.

In Rakugo Shinjuu‘s second season, Descending Stories, that love seems to be key in keeping him alive. He says things along those lines every now and then, complaining about how younger characters won’t let him die—or even retire from rakugo. But despite his complaints, there’s tenderness in the way he interacts with them.

[Spoilers through Descending Stories episode 8 ahead]

I’ve been particularly drawn in by his interactions with Konatsu, Second Generation Sukeroku’s daughter, whom he’s raised since her parents died. Their relationship has never been ideal, with him rather aloof and her blaming him for her father’s death. But there is still a beautiful, familial love.

Konatsu, now an exhausted mom and new wife, was apparently having a bad dream. She grabbed Yakumo’s wrist and pulled him down. He’s now reciting rakugo that her father used to perform for her as a young child—it always helped her sleep. (Descending Stories, ep 2)

Despite everything that’s happened in the last couple decades, despite their bonds, Konatsu still says she wants to kill Yakumo for the part he had in her father’s death. And he seems to wish, at least a little, that she would follow through—although the way she tells him he’s not allowed to die until she kills him indicates she never well.

In episode 7, we learn that Yakumo is carrying a burden for Konatsu—the truth of her parents’ death. If he told her about it, she might blame him less. But the truth would hurt her terribly. So he maintains the lie. This contributes to dysfunction in their relationship, but his motivation seems fueled by love—even if it’s tinged by guilt.

Now, there are three key people in Yakumo’s life: Konatsu, as shown above; his apprentice, Yotarou, who has taken the Sukeroku name and married Konatsu; and Konatsu’s son, Shinnosuke, who considers Yakumo to be his grandfather. The love in this unconventional family of four, despite Yakumo’s big secret, is clear.

Yet Yakumo remains depressed. It seems likely that if he’d never taken in Konatsu or Yotarou, he’d have tried to join Sukeroku in death by now.

In episode 8, Konatsu and Yotarou are off on their own, Konatsu leaning against Yotarou as he performs rakugo just for her (yes, they’re adorable). Then Yotarou looks up at the bridge and spies the frail Yakumo. The couple runs up to join him, and Yakumo makes a simple excuse for why he’s out on his own. Yotarou buys it. Konatsu, however, narrows her eyes. “You aren’t thinking of killing yourself, are you?”

His fingers curl, affirming her guess. Her confrontation culminates in an embrace. “I knew it,” Yakumo says softly. “It seems fate won’t allow me to kill myself. You all came to stop me. No matter how I try to wipe it away, your love continues to cling to me.”

Konatsu, Yotarou, and Yakumo on the bridge (ep 8)

Their love does more than get in the way of suicide. Again, Yakumo’s interactions with his family show that they really do give him some level of joy and comfort—of life—even though he can’t seem to hold onto this. If he does ever follow through on his suicidal thoughts, it won’t be the fault of his loved ones—his thinking is clearly beyond their control—but right now, their love gives life.

There are other examples of life-giving love in Descending Stories, although the other recipients of love aren’t suicidal. Yotarou chooses to love Shinnosuke as his own son, giving him the support of a second, involved parent. He loves his wife, Konatsu, unwavering yet gentle in the face of her harshness and initial protests—and this love clearly has an impact on her over time, as she’s increasingly willing to be vulnerable around him, to accept his care. Then there’s love from Yakumo—an unashamed, matter-of-fact, you’re-mine-and-I-accept-you love, which is just what Yotarou needs when others in rakugo and the press are ready to reject him because of his past gang affiliations (and his still-present tattoo).

Love Gives Life

The love Yakumo receives gives him reason to continue living (and encouragement to perform rakugo, which is such a part of his life, he’s even more despondent than usual without it). The love Shinnosuke, Konatsu, and Yotarou receive encourages them to live fully, confident they are accepted and valued, no matter what they’ve done.

In episode 2, people have seen Yotarou’s tattoo, and his past gang relations—and related shame—have been brought into the spotlight. An impulsive act during a performance doesn’t help his case. Some reject him for this. The tattoo is not a gang sign per say, but it may as well be in this culture. But Yakumo neither shames Yotarou nor ignores the problem—he simply asks to see the tattoo, and then compliments it, reaffirming his acceptance of Yotarou and freeing him from shame.

Outside anime, too, people find value, purpose, and strength in love, both received and given. Knowing that you’re cared for and valued, despite your faults, can go a long way to affirm not only your life itself, but your ability and right to pursue your dream career, hone your talents, or build friendship. Unconditional love frees us from the affects of shame, among other things.

I do, however, worry when people base their lives’ values on other people’s love or approval. Other humans don’t give you worth; they tell you of your worth. And your love doesn’t define any other individual’s value or purpose, does not affirm their life or obligate them to reciprocate your attention. Self-love isn’t sufficient, either. I’m quite fond of myself, but I shouldn’t rely on myself to define my worth or purpose—for one thing, that’s very arrogant, and for another, I’m not necessarily the most reliable source of love and acceptance.

The strongest, most life-giving love comes from God. He tells you that you have worth as a human being created in his image. He won’t ignore your faults or lie to you about them, especially when it comes to sin—he wants an honest relationship with you, and that means dealing with ways you’ve wronged him, not brushing it under the rug. But he’s also extremely forgiving, eager to welcome sinners into relationship with him, if they’ll only repent and come to him—something Jesus emphasized repeatedly, through his relationships on earth and through parables. He loves passionately, but he won’t force anyone to love him back. It’s the kind of love that, once accepted, allows for no shame beyond the useful kind that leads to repentance—there’s freedom when God no longer counts your sins against you.

I find my most enduring value, purpose, and peace of acceptance through God. Sometimes I forget the depth of his love—I do not take the time to bask in it and appreciate it as I should. But when I do, whether that’s by remembering what he’s done for me or by reading more about him in the Bible, the effects are life-giving. God, in his love, gives freedom from sin, acceptance into relationship, and purpose in worshiping him and serving others. He shows us how to love, and reinforces this with explanation and instruction (ex: John 15:12–131 Corinthians 13; the rest of the Bible, when read as a whole).

God often shows love through us. Christians, sometimes we might not feel love for someone—we’re not perfect, and sometimes our flesh gets in the way—but that doesn’t mean we’re not called to demonstrate God’s love through our actions and words. Don’t underestimate how far a small act of love can go in giving life and encouragement.

Love, when demonstrated, has the power to give life. Sometimes, that’s literal, physical life—the difference between drawing breath and not. Sometimes, it’s spiritual. But it’s always important.

Annalyn, known as Alexis to the outside world, is a lifelong lover of fiction. Growing up, books kept her attention, but anime stole center stage halfway through high school. If she isn’t consuming, writing, analyzing, or thinking about some form of story… she’s probably distracted. But she might be running, editing, or hanging out with family.
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