I’ve always thought that Haruko Kumota’s Shouwa Genroku Rakugo Shinjuu deserved more love, with both the manga and anime only garnering moderate success in small circles. But the recent announcement that the series will be getting a live-action drama adaptation could be the first step towards getting the recognition it deserves.
The series follows the story of Yakumo Yuurakutei and his pupil Yotarou as they develop their craft as traditional Japanese storytellers, commonly referred to as rakugo performers. This style of Japanese storytelling was what initially drew me into to the series, as it features only one performer with minimal staging and props, therefore relying solely on the storyteller’s own skill. But more than a story about rakugo, this is a story of tragic fates and a meditation on the inevitability of generation sin, and it was never able to reach as many people as it should have.
While the anime and manga might have fallen short in pulling the audience it deserves, a drama could be the series’ big break. Although it hardly seems like it, the original manga is steeped in josei tropes – manga meant for older women – and the fact that the majority of those who watch dramas in Japan are women could mean that it strikes a real chord with an already predisposed audience. After all, anime is predominantly a male pastime, which could also explain why the anime never garnered the popularity it deserved.
Furthermore, attaching star power to the series could bring in yet more viewers, particularly with an already established star such as Masaki Okada, who will be playing the main character Yakumo. He already has an extensive and varied filmography, starring in the popular lawyer drama Legal High as well as some other manga adaptations such as the live-action film of Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure: Diamond is Unbreakable. Such an established star will surely bring in viewers, with at least his die-hard fans surely planning on tuning in.
It seems that Okada is ready to give his all for the series as well, stating that he is “in the middle of studying the classics of rakugo” and that “the more I learn about it the more I love it.” I must admit I was skeptical when I saw that such a young heartthrob would be playing the withered, bitter Yakumo, but if Okada is genuinely as passionate about the project as he claims he is, then I’m sure he’ll give his all. That being said, he has a huge task ahead of him in trying to match Akira Ishida’s haunting performance as Yakumo in the anime.
We’ll just have to wait and see what happens with the drama adaptation, but I certainly have high hopes. It is slated to begin broadcast on October 12 this year on NHK and will follow the manga closely in order to honor the characters and world that Kumota created. If you’re interested in checking out the series beforehand, then both the manga and anime are available in English.