Editorials · On Characters

Filial Piety and Lingering Guilt in Uchouten Kazoku

The best application I've ever seen. Source: スミス☆
The best application I’ve ever seen. Source: スミス☆

There’s a beautiful scene at the end of Uchouten Kazoku’s second episode. Having rescued their mothers from the rain and thunder, three of the Shimogamo family’s “loser” brothers sit at Kyoto’s Shimogamo-jinja with their mother and recount the loss of their father. After reminiscing, Yasaburou remarks about their uselessness when compared to their father, but their mother reassures them that they are great tanuki and that she has and always will be proud of them. Like Yasaburou transforming into Benten to comfort his teacher, there are hints of pain throughout, traced with tenderness.

Kyoto is a city rooted in tradition and, as presented here, a massive wheel of differing cultures with each race having their own values and codes to live by. Dividing Kyoto further, within these races there are families and groups with their own fears, ambitions and ideals.  The respect for tradition within both the individual families and respective cultures is absolute. Carte blanche is awarded to those with powerful fathers while those without power fall to the wayside. The city spins on filial piety and culture; a family name is everything in a city where those without ability, such as a tengu who cannot fly or a tanuki who stays a frog, are regarded as outsiders. The Kyoto we see is founded on responsibility, duty, and tradition.

The Shimogamo brothers live in the shadow of their deceased father. They’re known as the notorious losers among tanuki society and the kids hardly live up to their father’s image. Granted, each family member has their eccentricities: Yajirou is a frog, Yasaburou is an idiot, and Yashirou is a timid kid, but it’s their father’s grand reputation which precedes them. Even Yaichirou, the eldest and most useful, tries to honor his family’s reputation by succeeding his father as the head of tanuki society, panics in times of crisis and crumbles as a leader. Within seconds of meeting them, it becomes apparent that neither of them are or can be their father. Each brother is too independent and unique to truly follow in their father’s footsteps.

I’m not big on filial piety, but each of the brothers in Uchouten Kazoku seem to have different perspectives on what it means. To Yaichirou, it’s a way of remembering his father from beyond the grave; to Yasaburou, it’s a drag which ties him to unnecessary responsibilities that his father wouldn’t care about. But though their perspectives on duty differ, everybody has their own self-afflicted obligations; the only times people deny this are when they’re scared of commitment. Even Yasaburou, who claims not to care for responsibility, openly displays it towards his Professor out of guilt towards injuring him, acting almost as if he were his son. Behind these self-imposed obligations are tender, sweet reminders about the days gone by.

Duty can sometimes be a way for people to remember the past, just as we may choose to take care of a close friend out of guilt or bring flowers to parent’s grave out of happy memories. Whether this type of behavior is good or bad is beyond me (a case by case analysis is probably preferable), but there are times when it can be unhealthy or self-destructive, especially when the task we put ourselves up to is beyond our means or no longer supports our growth. With any loss often comes both guilt and responsibility, and the line between the two is thin. But when duty arises out of guilt, we risk becoming slaves to the past. We may continue to try to rise to the occasion, despite knowing that our aptitude for our father’s position may not be as high as we thought it might. We might even confine ourselves to wells, permanently transform into frog and give up on our culture. And in some cases, we may humiliate ourselves by pretending to be the girl our teacher loves.

But duty to one’s family, state or culture can be anything we might make of it. It can be a calling to protect our brothers from rival tanuki or an opportunity for a mother to take care of her sons. Whether it’s a curse chaining one down to the past or an opportunity to make something right, it’s up to the person himself to decide what they’re duty means to them. Sure, there can be times when they can be unhealthy and self-destructive, especially when can’t be brought to forgive ourselves. But otherwise, there are times that they can recall fond, bittersweet memories. There are few things sweeter.

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Notes:

  • AjtheFourth wrote a wonderful article on the effects loss in Uchouten Kazoku here. Definitely worth a read.
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2 thoughts on “Filial Piety and Lingering Guilt in Uchouten Kazoku

  1. Filial piety is very big in Japan for sure. My favorite story about filial piety comes from Confucius. Apparently, someone asked Confucius whether it would be better to mourn for one’s parents for one year instead of the traditional three, because this would increase one’s productivity, etc. Confucius told him to do as he thought best, but, when he had left, Confucius told one of his followers: “What an unfeeling man he is. Does he not realize that for three years parents need to constantly care for their children?” The idea being that children should care for their parent’s memory as intensely for the same period of time.

    Perhaps Asians go overboard, but there might be something we Westerners can learn from them in this regard.

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