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