[Meta context: First published on February 6th 2017, this is the first record of MagicConan14’s writing in a WordPress style, slightly edited for better understanding and consistency. You can find it on Tumblr here.]
Disclaimer: I am not a sociologist or any other person with similar qualifications. I just want to try and dissect a show that I love in a more critical manner. That said, it’s very wordy.
Intro note: Shinnosuke = Shin-chan, Sukeroku = Konatsu’s dad, Yota = Shinnosuke’s adoptive dad. Just to avoid confusion.
Although Showa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu (henceforth SGRS) has had lots of focus on male characters, it is episode 17 that allows Konatsu to shine and break down the gender barriers. It’s her reactions and actions in this episode that shows how a skilled woman could keep up with her male peers even if she’s rearing a child, and that’s not only progressive in the show itself, it’s encouraging as part of a josei work.
At the start of the episode, Konatsu is seen working the shamisen in a theatre, something her mother wanted to do while she was alive. This ties into the theme of how people have to be shoehorned into their gender roles, despite what they may have wanted otherwise. Konatsu has the same dream as her mother, even though she initially despised her mother for running from her and her dad.
When Yakumo scolds her, there’s a cold air and at least one apology on the way. Certainly, the frigid air is all built up from years of legacy, but everyone bows down to the spoilt Shinnosuke. (It’s also notable Shin-chan is the only one to yell, “8th Generation!” like people do in previous episodes, as that itself is an extension of the legacy.)
Here, Konatsu’s anger as a mother is understandable to all demographics due to the way it’s succinctly reasoned out – in a sense, Konatsu may have been quelled in some regards, but she’s still the rebellious spirit she used to be. Also, in an age of women’s independence being accepted, Yakumo is doing Akegarasu instead of Jugemu (as requested by Shin-chan) to annoy his “daughter”. A clash of the times indeed.
It could even be said that Konatsu is the audience surrogate (for the intended demographic) of sorts, even if she is often on the sidelines. Despite her stubbornness, Konatsu does have the ability to play “straight man” to Yota, as discussed in the bus scene, which makes her relatable enough to suit all types of viewers, regardless of gender.
It is at the point where Yota brings his wife out on to the stage that the show hits turning point. Yota even gives Konatsu the spotted scarf, itself a symbol of Sukeroku. At multiple points during Konatsu’s performance of Jugemu do you see how she’s touched to finally be on stage and her “oh my gosh” is partially of disbelief as well as euphoria and embarrassment to a certain degree.
It then immediately cuts to the meal afterwards, and while Konatsu seems calmer now, she’s still oppressed in regards to what she wants to do. She even calls the traditional patriarchal system “better” and “more beautiful”, but the viewer is at this point well aware rakugo is a sinking ship. Basically, Yota implies that Konatsu is the sort of person, the sort of woman rakugo needs to be revived.
SGRS may have been carried by its male characters, but it’s Konatsu and Miyokichi’s legacy before her that cause people to realise we can’t be stuck in the past forever, holding on to tradition all the time. Sometimes, we just have to move on and change because that’s the way people evolve, both physically and psychologically.