Winds of Change: Furin in Shouwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu

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Summer heat gives way to the breezes that blow through the furin wind chimes, exorcising the stagnant, humid air. Shouwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu‘s eighth episode uses pillow shots of furin to both establish mood and transition from scene to scene as tensions swell and crest between the series’ three key players.

The traditional Japanese furin originated from Chinese wind bells used for fortune telling as well as warding off evil spirits. Wind bells were placed at the four corners of pagodas and Buddhist temples to chase away said spirits from the premises. When Buddhism arrived in Japan, the furin followed. It became common to place the colorful glass wind chimes in entryways to prevent evil from entering a room. As time passed, furin came to represent mental relaxation and a fresh breeze.

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The eighth episode of Shouwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu opens with a rakugo monologue and the shot of furin hanging over a sunflower field. Furin are a shortcut for the summer season in addition to the changing breeze, and this sets the scene for Kikuhiko Yuurakutei’s performance while on tour with his master, the current Yakumo Yuurakutei. While Kikuhiko performs, Yakumo is pulled aside by a colleague and praised for Kikuhiko’s performances while fretting over Kikuhiko and the wayward Sukeroku’s impending shin’uchi nominations. This is the first hint in this episode at a disturbance, or a shifting breeze, in the status quo of Yakumo, Kikuhiko, and Sukeroku’s lives – a shift that begin in the previous episode with Yakumo selecting Kikuhiko to tour the country with him, leaving Sukeroku behind.

After a scene between Yakumo and Kikuhiko regarding Sukeroku’s slovenly and disrespectful behavior, the series transitions to Sukeroku onstage, feeding off of the audience’s energy as always and working up a summer sweat.

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Furin usher in a quiet scene between Sukeroku and Miyokichi following Sukeroku’s performance, another conversation that signals change in the already tense balance that the three have struck.

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They are still when Miyokichi greets Sukeroku after the performance and the two make small talk; however, as soon as Sukeroku mentions that Kikuhiko is off traveling, the wind immediately picks up, blowing harder than it has all episode. Miyokichi wasn’t privy to this information, and it confirms her greatest fear: Kikuhiko is breaking off their relationship. When Sukeroku moves to comfort her, Kikuhiko sees the two of them together, and the scene transitions again into the two Yuurakutei rakugo brothers talking about their own separate paths.

Kikuhiko is obviously siding with the deep-seated tradition of rakugo, while Sukeroku recognizes the changing times and wants rakugo to change. Their conversation takes place in a smoky American jazz bar, another sign of the ever-changing post-war era. Japan as a country is desperately trying to cling to their traditions while being forcibly pushed into Western industrialization under the United States’ heavy hand. Sukeroku, a performer that feeds solely off of his audience, knows that rakugo needs to change in order to compete with more modern media forms like film and radio. Even Kikuhiko benefitted from radio broadcasts, which allowed people all over the country to hear his rakugo performances – it’s not a coincidence that this is how Kikuhiko (now Yakumo) is introduced in Episode 1.

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This entire episode is about the push and pull of tradition against growth or development as all of the Rakugo Shinjuu characters struggle with how to deal with the changing times. Most notably, Sukeroku gives his fan to Kikuhiko as a symbol of their parting as their paths diverge. The paper fan is one of two props allowed in a rakugo performance, and is Sukeroku’s last remaining memento of his first master. It’s his last tie to tradition, as he aims to take the Yakumo name on talent alone, and ensure that rakugo survives the changing times. He leaves it with the traditionalist, Kikuhiko before furin transition the scene once more, to the current Yakumo Yuurakutei.

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The seventh generation Yakumo has just finished the shin-uchi meetings, and both Kikuhiko and Sukeroku were accepted – the latter in spite of his perceived lack of respect for tradition. As a soft breeze blows through the furin, Yakumo takes out the Yuurakutei family register, and momentarily laments that he believes that he himself has failed to live up to the family name. The shadow of the name looms over the seventh generation Yakumo, casting doubt over his individual performances and rakugo. In later episodes, there will be passionate arguments for and against tradition and change. However, throughout the eighth episode there are the furin, ushering a soft breeze that signals the oncoming storm.

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