I don’t think saying this will be contested, so I’ll just go ahead and come out with it: Joshiraku might just be the single most Japanese slice of life show ever made. It’s not just the fact that most of the story takes place in the backstage of a rakugo theater, or the fact that the concluding joke is one of the most brazen verbal assaults on the Asian mainland this side of early 20th Century American fear-mongering. The very essence of the comedy is something so gelatinously thick with Japanese culture, not helped by a distinct nationalistic tinge, that anybody allergic to glorious Nippon would erupt in flames immediately upon contact.
The show touts its dialogue-heavy nature as soon as it begins, and makes that the crux of a hefty chunk of its humor. It’s reminiscent of Home Movies’ free-flowing improvisation, giving off the impression of actual conversation, if people decided to constantly bombard each other with tissue puns and fourth wall breaking tidbits instead of actual human concerns. Being heavy on the pun-based side of the comedy spectrum, quite a lot probably gets lost in translation on its way to the subtitles, which probably accounts for the glacial subbing speed.
A lot’s been said about potential nationalistic elements, particularly because of the concluding joke mentioned in the first paragraph that prods not-so-subtly at past and present conflicts of interest around Japan. But being from the same mind as Sayonara Zetsubou-Sensei, which took just as many potshots at Japanese society as it did the world at large, I’m inclined to think that it’s more a series of equal opportunity jokes than a thinly-veiled outlet for zealous ultranationalism. Of course others may want to debate this, and I encourage them to.
Writing thoughts for comedy is never easy, mainly because of its incredibly subjective nature. But for what it’s worth, I enjoyed Joshiraku’s style; everything segued neatly into everything else, the dialogue was fluid and as unobtrusive as advertised, and the comedy managed to be sharp without sacrificing subtlety. If the viewer can look past the constant jabs at the slice of life format and the occasional stretch of dull banter, there’s quite a lot to like here for a patient and perceptive soul.