“Our dad was one of the well-known, great tanuki of Kyoto. He was respected by many tanuki and with that influence he united tanuki society, but regrettably, several years ago he passed away. He was eaten as an ingredient in a hot pot.”
-Yasaburou Shimogamo, Uchouten Kazoku, episode 2.
I’ll admit, a chuckle escaped my lips as I heard this.
Although we don’t know the full story behind the Shimogamo patriarch’s death, the idea that he would end up in a stew is deliciously amusing to those of us who are not tanuki. Juxtaposed with the larger-than-life shadow that he has cast across his family is the ridiculous idea that Yasaburou’s father was cooked and eaten because he is a tanuki – perhaps as a ritualistic payback for Kachi-kachi Yama. The circumstance of his demise only serves to make the repercussions, which inform the actions of his four sons, all the more poignant to watch.
“Our mother doesn’t believe for one minute that her children are notorious losers in tanuki society. She has no doubt that every last one of us kids are fit to follow in the footsteps of our deceased dad.”
-Yasaburou Shimogamo, Uchouten Kazoku, episode 2.
I never knew my grandfather, as he passed away from a lung infection when my father was 14 years-old. My father rarely speaks of him; however, without him saying anything, I can see the profound effect of that loss. His personality is naturally isolating, and the absence of a father figure only added to his awkwardness and inability to communicate with others concisely. My grandmother was just as much of a force as the Shimagamo matriarch – although not nearly as fashion-forward – pulling her family together with a brightness and optimism that still permeates her every day life. It was always apparent through her interactions with both of her children (as well as the stories that she told about how my father once drilled holes in the walls of the basement simply to find out what was there, or how my aunt adopted any and every neighborhood stray) that she never doubted in either of her children once, and unconditionally loved them both. One day, while expressing frustration with my father, my grandmother laughed and explained that he simply sees the world differently. When he speaks with someone, more often than not, his mind will be elsewhere, and she surmised that a large part of this was due to losing his father at such a crucial point in time.
“You think you can bury me alive with all of your worries?!”
-Yajirou Shimogamo, Uchouten Kazoku, episode two.
Uchouten Kazoku sees the four Shimogamo brothers each struggling with their own personal reaction to their father’s death. Regardless of how absurd the circumstance, his loss is felt mightily by each of his sons.
The impressionable Yashirou is the youngest son, and the community effect of Soichirou Shimogamo’s death is most easily identified in his every day life. Yashirou was too young to know his father well before he passed away, but he deals with the repercussions of being from the Shimogamo Family daily and is bullied mercilessly because of them. Like a tanuki unrelated to the Shimogamo Family, Yashirou only knows of the ideal that is Soichirou Shimogamo, not the person or the father.
Yaichirou, the eldest, is shown to have taken up the burden of being the head of the Shimogamo Family. Yaichirou carries this mantle well, defending his brothers while attempting to keep them in line. Unfortunately he easily falls apart under pressure to the point of incoherency. Especially telling is how he continues to bark out orders to his younger brothers in spite of having a panic attack in episode two. Immediately prior to this scene, he had transformed into a magnificent tiger, defending Yashirou and Yasaburou from the blustering Ebisugawa brothers. When subsequently faced with the fact that his mother may be in danger, Yaichirou suddenly becomes a stuttering mess.
The second eldest, Yajirou, is the frog pictured above. Once gifted with the tanuki ability to shapeshift, he is now permanently stuck in the body of a frog. It’s uncertain whether this is a result of an accident or, one day, Yajirou was simply unable to change back. Regardless, Yajirou is still working out his own personal issues, berating himself for not remembering his father’s last words, and providing a welcome place for others to come and speak about their problems. He’s accepting of his current position, but not particularly enthused. Yajirou also has the most global outlook of the brothers, perhaps because others constantly provide him with information.
Yasaburou is the third son, whose stated goal is to “lead an interesting life.” More interesting than Yasaburou’s antics is the assertion by Yajirou that Yasaburou was their father’s favorite, and the son whom was the most like himself. Indeed, in spite of his foolish nature, Yasaburou appears to be the most clear-minded of the brothers Shimogamo, although he’s thoroughly unwilling to admit it. For the most part, Yasaburou plays his role well, with brief flashes of the astute and caring nature buried underneath.
“I swear, you are the most unfilial brat! Father is surely suffering in the next world!”
“Father wasn’t the type of tanuki who cared about stuff like that.”
-a conversation between Yaichirou and Yasaburou Shimogamo, Uchouten Kazoku, episode two.
My initial laughter at the method by which Yasaburou’s father met his end was quickly suppressed by the impressive amount of emotion that Uchouten Kazoku manages to weave in along with the back-and-forth banter between the Shimogamo brothers, and everyday otherworldly occurrences that make up the fabric of this modern-day Kyoto. Death comes to us all, and whether one dies of illness or as a hot pot ingredient doesn’t matter one bit in the grand scheme of things, nor does it soften the blow that these four young men have been dealt. In fact, in relief, the absurdity of Soichirou Shimogamo’s death makes the lasting effects shown all the more genuine.
Additionally, upon finishing the episode, I felt as if I understood my own father just a little a bit more, which was nice as I’ve been told repeatedly that I’m very much like him.