“All there is to do is lead an interesting life.” At the beginning of the first episode we hear those words ring out as some kind of raccoon-dog runs out through the streets of Kyoto, shaves through bushes, and transforms into grown man. And, at least until we hear unequivocally one of the best openings of the season, it’s likely the most striking moment in the prologue. When those words roll off of Yasaburou’s tongue for the first time, they almost make him look weightless and free. The next few moments make Yasaburou seem even more so: he claims no responsibilities and enjoys his days by pranking the way time.
But very much to my surprise when I revisited Uchouten Kazoku months later, it was never just Yasaburou who acts in such a way. The Kyoto presented Uchouten Kazoku is an entire world filled with grown-up children, in love with their own fun. Whether it be Yasaburou, Benten, Hotei, or any number of tanuki, tengu, or human beings, they’re all interested in playing games to satisfy their boredom. Some eat others as a way to express their love. Some cry for no reason. Others even play hide-and-seek with their ex-fiance. And in the beginning, much like any of the number of trickster heroes to precede him, Yasaburou plays tricks.
The way that these people act may be wonderfully foolish, but for many of the characters their lives are stuck and incomplete. Their happiness is entirely made up of meeting certain conditions and is in many cases limited. Hotei, stuck in Freud’s infantile oral stage, can only show affection through the consumption of food. Benten, aware of her own power and societal importance, manipulates the relationships of those who surround her all while yearning for a bit of company. Even Kinkaku and Ginkaku, as much as they would hate to admit it, are entirely reliant on the Shimogamo family for their own fun as without them, they would have no one to heckle.
There’s a difference between living life as a game to be played for the fun of it and living in the moment, free and unrestrained. Living out the former is easy – you can see it take place in any college frat house or on the couch of any lazy slob, where glimpses of satisfaction must be forced through shirking off all responsibilities, whether those responsibilities be to others or even themselves. But the latter requires something different. A while back, I wrote that people seeking ecstasy over all things tend to be rather fearless in their pursuit, especially those willing to walk the tightrope between aliveness and annihilation. However, underneath the greatest fear of a fool is the boredom which comes from responsibility. It’s as Thoreau would put it, the crushing boredom from falling into routine.
Enjoying responsibilities and being perfectly happy with following the flow isn’t easy. This means no forced moments, no lofty ambitions, and no fear of being just a “mere” anything. At one point Yasaburou questions how a tanuki as great as his father could give up a life boundless freedom, but it isn’t until we see his father complacent and unafraid before and after his death that we can see that the life Yasaburou has lived up until now has been far from boundless and free. Neither he nor any of other characters had ever aspired to the condition of Shimogamo Souichirou, who in the face of being eaten only wondered whether he would taste good.
In the final moments of the story, Yasaburou, standing with Benten, reflects on his journey to the new year and come to the conclusion that he doesn’t need anything. It isn’t until Yasaburou had undertaken his own journey, found his own responsibilities, and confronted his past that he could finally say his catch phrase while understanding the meaning of it. This time, he comes to the same conclusion of “leading an interesting life,” but without any delusions of being a greater tanuki than he really is or any resistance to his own responsibilities. He doesn’t need to be anything greater or less than he really is nor does he need force any exciting conclusions since the world is already strange, fun, and exciting enough to last him a lifetime. All there is left is someone similar to his father, someone in the shape of a truly wise fool.