Shouwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu and It’s Interesting Use of Jazz Music

[HorribleSubs] Shouwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu - 04 [720p].mkv_snapshot_05.51_[2016.03.07_11.52.03]

Rakugo is a traditional form of Japanese art-it is a performance which involves telling a story through acting different kinds of characters. In such a “Japanese” show, I thought it was strange at first that it uses jazz music as it’s OST, but it just oddly blends together so well.

Because jazz music is just such an “American” thing, how would it fit? When you think about it though, the anime is actively trying to provide a commentary on the clash of cultures between the Japanese rakugo, and the American jazz music. Both are soaked deep in culture, both are entertainment; at the same time, one of them is an older form of entertainment while the other represents one of the many forms of modern entertainment that would be prevalent even today.

Formal western outfit is a popular choice of attire during this period, an outfit even Kikuhiko himself often wears.

Formal western outfit is a popular choice of attire during this period, an outfit even Kikuhiko himself often wears.

Interestingly, the anime is set at a time period perfect to portray such a theme; at a time when “Westernization” was already widespread among the country. Just by looking at the way the characters dress, you can already notice the stark contrast between Japanese and Western cultures-some of them still wear traditional hakama/yukata/kimono, while some of them actually wear Western clothes-formal Western wear can be seen as an especially popular choice of outfit during this time.

[HorribleSubs] Shouwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu - 08 [720p].mkv_snapshot_15.36_[2016.03.07_11.16.38]

Music can also be seen going through this cultural transition during Japan’s westernization period. Considering that jazz music was also founded around the 19th century, the timing was just right, as we can see jazz music being a huge influence as well in Rakugo’s fictional depiction of that period in Japan. The sight of people strumming their shamisen was starting to fade into background while people playing Western musical instruments became a more common occurrence, which would pave the way for music genres like jazz, rock and pop, solidifying their presences in the Japanese culture.

It may sound like I’m pulling all these out of my ass (because jazz music was -only- used as an OST for an extended period of time and was in no way mentioned -within- the anime). In Episode 8 though, this idea was finally solidified through the main characters’ acknowledgement of cultural shift in Japan, while the camera pans towards a group of jazz music performers on stage.

[HorribleSubs] Shouwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu - 08 [720p].mkv_snapshot_15.42_[2016.03.07_11.47.58]

And at the end of the day, I think it’s absolutely brilliant. This gives the jazz music a more contextual reason to be used instead of just being there. When I first heard the jazz soundtracks, I thought it fits so well in ways I can’t explain despite being such a “Japanese” show, but in hindsight, this must be the reason why-the anime had been presenting the cultural clash between Japan and America since the very first episode, and had been doing a really great job in portraying this “Westernization” aspect at that.

[HorribleSubs] Shouwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu - 03 [720p].mkv_snapshot_23.40_[2016.03.07_11.49.52]

Rakugo is a great anime, and this almost effortless execution of it’s theme is one reason among the many why Rakugo is a must-watch this season. I guess in short, watch Rakugo if you haven’t already as it’s an excellent show.

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This entry was posted by Kai.

8 thoughts on “Shouwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu and It’s Interesting Use of Jazz Music

  1. I’m in the middle of writing about Rakugo Shinjuu right now, and I cheerfully admit I’m using this to procrastinate. But I’m glad you wrote about this. While I’ve enjoyed the jazzy music from the start, I never really thought about how it enhanced the theme of West vs. Japan—or old/traditional vs. new/changing, which I’d argue is the stronger theme. There’s a lot of tension between forces of tradition and forces of change in this series—the conversation between Sukeroku and Kikuhiko in episode 8 shows part of it, and the tension reaches a breaking point in the next episode. But I never stopped to think about how the modern style of music plays into that theme.

    Thank you for pointing this out! Rakugo Shinjuu is a rich multi-layered show, and you just made it a little richer for me. ^_^

    • Yeah, I just read your post and you made some really strong points in regards to the theme of old vs new. I do agree with that but I’ll stand by my point that the westernization theme still maintains a strong role in the anime :p It’s interesting too, because in episode 9, we can already begin to see how the scenes lead to their current status quo in the present

      No problem :p I love jazz music, so they always “zoom in” on me if I hear them in an anime.

  2. Before Sakamichi no Apollon, I’d think it’s strange to listen to jazz music influence within Japanese culture. Since then, I’ve been able to catch some jazz music going on in a lot anime and other Japanese media. I haven’t listen to the whole OST of Rakugo Shinjuu but from the anime, one can tell the subtle jazz music playing in the background that oddly compliments the scenes well. I’m loving the series in every aspect!

    • Anime with jazz music exists even before that, but it’s true I only started noticing them after Sakamichi no Apollon, lol. To my very limited knowledge, Cowboy Bepop and Baccano have great jazz soundtracks, and now including Rakugo, that’s 4 in my anime jazz playlist :p Interestingly, you can see here that in the former two, the anime themselves are already quite “Americanized” while the latter two, while in a Japanese setting, again, are set at a time when westernization in Japan was already widespread. (Sakamichi is set in 1970, I believe).

  3. Pingback: Kai’s Favorite Anime of 2016 | deluscar

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