“You cannot say ‘no’ to the people you love, not often. That’s the secret. And then when you do, it has to sound like a ‘yes’. Or you have to make them say ‘no.’ You have to take time and trouble.”
-Mario Puzo, “The Godfather.”
There’s a common idea that as one grows older, they care less for what those around them think. Things one may have restrained from saying at the age of 20 may leak out at age 35, and be said with a sharp tongue at age 60. More interesting is an opposite effect that can occur with family members purposefully watching what they say around their elder relatives.
When you are around those you love, sometimes it’s better to pretend.
Uchouten Kazoku‘s cranky Professor Akadama is quickly becoming one of my favorite characters within the series, not only for his endearing and blustering ways, but also for the way others so tenderly care for him, even as they pretend not to. A particularly layered conversation takes place in the series’ third episode as Yasaborou and Yashirou Shimogamo visit the professor to ask for a favor and find him entertaining an old tengu friend. This friend has recently ceded his own position as a tengu to a successor, and now runs a camera shop. The two banter back and forth about tengu and flying with a large shadow looming over their conversation: Professor Akadama can no longer fly.
In writing about this series, I previously touched upon my father’s mother, and what an amazing person she was. I say this in the past tense because, although she’s technically alive, she is no longer the same person, as she has degenerative dementia. Fortunately, as of now, she still remembers who I am; however, I don’t know how long that will last. The grandmother who used to annihilate me in both tennis and board games, taught me how to ski, and used to be able to navigate the most difficult crossword puzzles with amazing ease now is too frail for such physical exertion and doesn’t remember the rules to any of the games we used to play. So what do I, and my family members, do when she insists on playing Scrabble? We pretend.
“When I got to Demachi, I thought I’d like to see you and flew by Mount Nyoigatake, but it was all Kurama tengu.”
-tengu friend of Professor Akadama’s, Uchouten Kazoku, episode three.
Professor Akadama continues to assert that he turned his territory over to the Kurama tengu because it was too much of a hassle. He assures his friend that watching the fires of the upcoming festival from the ground on Demachi is more desirable than watching from the mountain. Additionally, he goes as far as to tease his friend for taking the train in from Osaka rather than flying as a tengu should. This conversation meanders along with the audience guessing as to whether Professor Akadama’s friend knows the truth of Akadama’s condition or not. When Yasaborou expresses his frustration with his mentor, he blurts out that the elderly tengu cannot fly nor whip up a whirlwind in front of Akadama’s friend. Presuming that his friend was unaware of Akadama’s condition, I winced watching this scene, as the reveal was so raw and abrupt in light of the posturing that Professor Akadama had done to hide the truth.
My family members know of my grandmother’s condition, just as much as she herself knows of her condition – one day, she will not remember how she used to be at all, and this, above all things is what scares me the most as it seems so terribly lonely – and we all do our parts to pretend that none of it exists. Yes, it is more time and trouble to aid her in playing games with us, while pretending that we’re not helping her; however, as it makes her feel stronger and more like she used to be, we continue to pretend.
“It seems like you’re taking good care of Yakushibo…All Yakushibo does is complain, but there’s no doubt that he is thankful.”
-tengu friend of Professor Akadama’s to Yasaborou Shimogamo, Uchouten Kazoku, episode three.
The truth of the matter is that Professor Akadama’s Osaka friend knew all along that Akadama is unable to fly. He knew, and accepted being chided for not flying. He knew, and pretended that, while flying, he would have seen Akadama on his mountain. He knew, and gave the professor an out in getting rid of the Kurama tengu, had he wanted one. He knew, and prodded a bit at the professor’s actions in a way that wouldn’t seem accusatory, or burst the fragile image of strength that Akadama continues to project around himself, in spite of the fact that all who know him know better.
Uchouten Kazoku continues to roll along, much like its figurative wheel of tanuki, humans, and tengu that continue to turn this city of Kyoto. Its most fascinating pieces are often not the supernatural occurrences but the wonderful every day life with those that Yasaburou deeply cares about, even if he pretends not to.