Editorials · On Characters

The Heroic Fool of Uchouten Kazoku

Another thing to take away from this is that Benten is smoking hot. Source: Kure-Syuh
Completely unrelated, but Benten is smoking hot. Source: Kure-Syuh

Whatever the hell curiosity is, it sure likes to take plenty of forms. Sometimes curiosity comes forth as mischief and at others it resembles spontaneity, but whatever the case, it tends to arise in times of boredom and ennui. It keeps us interested, draws out creativity and brings us to experiment in the name of fun. It encourages us to dispense order and knowledge of what is already safe, controlled and known and pushes us into indulging our senses and (temporarily) dispensing logic. Curiosity makes fools out everyone.

The protagonist of Uchouten Kazoku, Yasaburou, is a fool. Running through the streets of Kyoto, he espouses on the delicate order built up from Kyoto, describes his enjoyment of Kyoto’s spinning wheel and separates himself from the rest of the town. Switching from body to body, gender to gender, Yasaburou plays tricks for his own amusement, states the truth without impunity and doesn’t fear the judgment of bystanders. His opening and closing narration states everything that needs to be known about who he is and what his goals are, to have fun and lead an interesting life. But although his actions, goals, immodesty and disregard towards social structure are almost childish, there’s wisdom to be had in his almost insane aversion to boredom. There is absolutely nothing wrong with playing the role of the fool.

To clarify, the title “The Fool” does not indicate that a person is an idiot or an obnoxious ass (although fools certainly tend to be both) but rather that the said person carries a childlike or even primal state of mind, in the Tarot sense of the word. When we experience flashes of boredom we tap into this mindset and seek to be entertained, often through experimentation.  At the earliest level of boredom, we’re kids: we do things not because they’re reasonable, but because we think that they’re fun. We disrupt, dissect and play tricks or pranks for laughs. We tend to not label this behavior as good or bad; in children we label it as “naughtiness” and in adults, “irresponsibility.”

In terms of Transactional Analysis, Yasaburou’s character seems heavily derived the Child ego in that both his actions and personal creed are derived entirely from instinctual feeling, the drive to avoid boredom and to be entertained. Despite the importance of the objectivity and rationality of the Adult ego and the heavy influence of the Parent ego, it is the rebelliousness, imagination and curiosity derived from the Child ego that drive us along the path of individuality and distinction. Any enjoyment is pure self-expression at its finest and the Child ego’s unrestrained almost iconoclast nature develops highly individualistic taste as it smashes rules and taboos for the sake of enjoyment.

This willingness to break rules and play the pleasure seeker is no less similar to Tatami Galaxy’s Ozu. Both Ozu and Yasaburou share a fixation on the sensation of aliveness and both devote their time to seizing the day. The two may crossdress, transform, flash panties, prank, con, drink, smoke, bend rules, lie, injure or even hijack blimps but in the end they are driven by a similar search of enjoyment. Ozu in particular is crazy, reckless and is as dangerous as he is fun. But there’s valuable crazy wisdom in this to be offered to us (and his friend Watashi) about seizing the now – that carpe diem is wonderful, fun and just a bit nuts.

Despite this, it is important to note that though the personal philosophy of the fool is wonderful and exciting, there’s a hidden danger to it: a Dionysian mode of living walks on a tightrope between pure ecstasy and complete self-destruction. Any person who has puked nine shots of Grey Goose and Vicoden onto a Safeway register had a hangover, cheated in a relationship or scratched at a scab until it bled knows the repercussions to be had from an attempt at complete immersion. Embracing madness and desire and then “letting it all hang out” is wonderful and good but nothing is truly borderless and without consequence. We have limits when it comes to indulging our curiosity and extreme attempts at grasping pure sensuality (an unattainable absolute) can suggest either compensation or insatiable thirst more than they do happiness.

Yasaburou’s final lines, “all there is to do is lead an interesting life,” hints at a self-restrained sense of purposeless to his pursuit of enjoyment. Looking at how he admires the Tengu in the sky and hides his brother’s identity in the human’s city, perhaps there’s a slight longing for freedom. He’s a tanuki, bound to the earth and hidden from humans and it is clear that he wants something more from Kyoto. Whether it’s Benten, penance for robbing his teacher of flight, the truth behind his father’s death or enjoying the freedom of Tengu, there’s something clearly there to be desired by him. If his crux is truly boredom as he says and his ultimate goal is aliveness, I’m eager to see what makes him feel truly alive.

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