“I’m definitely going to eat you up!” Uchouten Kazoku and Relationships as Social Capital

uchouten kazoku, the eccentric family, uchouten, uchouten kazoku episode 5, the friday fellows

You can choose your friends, but you cannot choose your family, or so the saying goes. By placing them side by side, Uchouten Kazoku is able to explore the various relationships forged between family members, friends, lovers, rivals, and business partners alike, similar to how the ever-rotating wheel of relationships between tengu, humans, and tanuki form the series’ background tapestry of modern-day Kyoto.

As it is with most social systems, this Kyoto is separated into multiple strata, with certain groups controlling different areas of the city. Likewise, within these groups there are inevitably the haves and the have-nots, all in a constant state of flux to out-do each other in order to reach the top. From Yasaburou Shimogamo’s perspective, none are as dangerous, influential, or as irresistible as Benten. She seemingly leads a charmed and incredibly successful life, full of wonderful things, and a bevy of humans, tengu, and tanuki all eager to please her.

How is it then, that she is the loneliest, most isolated, and sorrowful character within the series?

uchouten kazoku, the eccentric family, benten, suzuki satomi, benten flying through cherry blossoms, uchouten kazoku episode 1

We are initially introduced to Benten through a memory of Yasaburou’s – not by coincidence, it’s the memory of when Yasaburou first met her – when she was still Satomi Suzuki, still learning to fly. Her beauty is obvious, but understating it is the pure joy that she takes from flying around a cherry tree, observing the blossoms as she weaves through the branches. This woman is vastly different from the polished businesswoman that Yasaburou later converses with in Uchouten Kazoku‘s first episode. The latter Benten is shrewd, calculating, and obviously holds a great deal of clout. She no longer sees her mentor, the tengu Professor Akadama, and is on rocky terms with Yasaburou, presumably due to her involvement and overwhelming guilt in the Professor’s injury, which restricts him from flying. Throughout their conversation, she continuously reminds Yasaburou through her words, demeanor, and teasing lilt in her voice that is her and only her who is in control of whatever relationship they may have.

In fact, Benten seems to control all relationships that she chooses to take part in, using a vast majority of them to further her position and social standing. Seemingly, she avoids becoming close to others, as she is unable to separate her tendencies of consumption from any emotions that she may have. Her friendship with the Friday Fellows is more of a position than a friendship. She supplies eye candy and entertainment for the evening while ingratiating herself with the most influential humans in the city.

“But if you eat the thing you like, then the thing you like will be gone!”

-Benten, Uchouten Kazoku, episode five.

Benten’s approach to all other relationships in her life puts her continued pursuit of Yasaburou into an interesting perspective. Yasaburou, in spite of his existence as a tanuki, is not like any hot-pot ingredient, fan, floating tearoom, or other possession that Benten owns. She doesn’t own him at all, and never will be able to, unlike her position as owner in all of her other relationships, including her involvement with the Professor. In fact, an interesting thread can be followed from the ways that the Professor dotes on Benten with material things, and the way she sees relationships with others as material things in turn. Following her involvement in Professor Akadama’s accident, she seemingly has sought to distance herself as far from him as possible, unable to face hurting one whom she presumably did care for emotionally. Her after-hours cocktail party with Yasaburou on the rooftops of Kyoto suggests that she realizes how empty her social position truly is with no warmth or emotional contact to support it. Additionally, she is admitting that she is now unable to separate her methods of consuming everything and anything she comes into contact with, in spite of knowing how ultimately isolating those tendencies are.

"Then, as she drank the cocktail in her hand, for some reason she murmured, 'So sad, so sad.'"

“Then, as she drank the cocktail in her hand, for some reason she murmured, ‘So sad, so sad.'”

While Benten, from her tutelage under the Professor, the Friday Fellows, or elsewhere, has learned to treat her relationships as assets, Yasaburou, through the love of his late father and his filial bonds, has only learned how to love others emotionally. He may protest and bluster while professing that his main goal is to “lead an interesting life,” but his actions speak far more than his words. Yasaburou ensures that Professor Akadama is taken care of, not out of guilt – although that may be present as well – but out of genuine caring. For as much as he may detest the ideas of upholding the social traditions and obligations that his eldest brother claims to love, Yasaburou is always there for his family members when it matters.

In contrast, the entirety of episode five, and additionally the events that lead up to Yasaburou’s flight to Osaka, could all be seen as an elaborate scheme for Benten to not only assert her dominance over Yasaburou, but a way for her to spend time with him while working within the system of social capital that she has climbed to the top of. Unable to simply say that she wants to be with Yasaburou, or reach out to him in a straightforward way, she instead relies on her connections and power to inevitably draw him to her, all the while knowing that her relationship with him could eventually destroy him.

And that, Satomi Suzuki, is the saddest thing of all.

8 comments

  1. The sacrifice of the Japanese salaryman or businesswoman is legend, and it certainly feels anvilicious here. Would it require that much of a change, positionally speaking, for her to open up a bit and cultivate real friendships with those who are nominally her friends? Maybe not. But it would certainly require an attitude adjustment.

    Life is not all business. As you describe it, Benten’s problem seems more about coping badly with finding balance (and with her own guilt) than the inherent evils of a business mindset.

    1. I think her own guilt is the bulk of it. We know that she is partially responsible for the Professor’s accident, and additionally possibly responsible for Yasaburou’s father’s demise. Unable to cope with her participation in these actions, and their outcomes, I see her as one who has given up on having a true emotional relationship with anyone because she is afraid to. The business route is far easier for her to take, and it leaves her with the appearance that she’s in control.

      Thanks for the comment. ^ ^

  2. “understating it is the pure joy that she takes from flying around a cherry tree, observing the blossoms as she weaves through the branches. This woman is vastly different from the polished businesswoman”

    The fact that we saw her enjoying sakura and flying is still only one glimpse in the past and her soul was even back then a mystery to all of us. She is still whimsical and seeks joy through nature, as we’ve seen her play with the whale and diving in the water naked. Yes, she seemed more carefree, less bossy, but can we surely say they are two totally different women, so to speak?

    As for the phrase ‘ want to eat you up’ I thought it was of similar vain with ‘I wanna get killed by you’. Eastern mentalities where loss gets romanticized/glorified if the deceaced remains in some form inside or in the circle of the loved one(s) is encountered in X with Sakurazukamori’s succession ritual and RG Veda’s villain’s past- not sure if you are acquainted with CLAMP. Although I can’t be 100% sure since I haven’t stumbled on a particular sociological paper.

    1. “As for the phrase ‘ want to eat you up’ I thought it was of similar vain with ‘I wanna get killed by you’.”

      It certainly could be taken that way. I see it as another manifestation of Benten’s acceptance that, even if she were to try to love Yasaburou, she would always have to deal with the fact that they are two different beings who are sometimes at odds with one another due to circumstance.

      There’s a telling conversation in episode one, where Yasaburou asks, “I don’t suppose you’d ever go for a tanuki.” to which Benten replies, “I’m a human, what do you expect?” This lends itself to the idea that, while Benten refuses to get too close to Yasaburou because she’s afraid the day he may end up in a hot pot will come, if Yasaburou does meet that end she wants it to be by her own hand and no one else’s.

      Thanks for the comment! ^ ^

  3. How I’ve struggled understanding the relationships between not only the characters in this show, but the different races as a whole. And probably worst of all, I struggle mightily with Yasaburou and Benten’s relationship, just as I struggle with the tanuki/human one.

    I’m trying my best not to be drawn to her, even though everything about her is enticing and interesting. I really, really want to know what twisted her the way she did. I don’t think it was merely business, or she wouldn’t be so cold to Yasaburou, who is generally anything but business. Something made her change totally, and I find that more interesting than anything else about her.

    I think I need to take more of your approach in watching this show. And by that I mean I need to focus more on the relationships to understand the characters, rather than vice versa. I was left rather tired after episode five because of it.

    1. I think the key to understanding Yasaburou and Benten’s relationship is to realize that far more is being said through body language, voice acting, and visuals as opposed to the actual dialogue between the two. These characters have a history, that much is obvious, but we are not privy to it (yet) although it permeates every single one of their interactions.

      It’s odd, because as you may have noticed from other posts, I naturally tend to organize things by relationships over character traits. I am unable to separate the two. I’m not sure how else to interpret things, as this is the way my mind naturally works, for better or for worse.

      That being said, I hope you continue with the series. I too am looking forward to the moment when the series revealed just exactly what happened between Benten and Yasaburou.

      Thanks for the comment. ^ ^

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