I discovered that NHK World has uploaded a bunch of videos – quite a change as it used to be very hard to find NHK content online. What especially interested me now was not only the content, but also that these videos offer a great opportunity to study the kishoutenketsu structure in a new format.
I had this realization as I was watching The Great Cocktail Quest: Gokan Shingo. Not only was it a fascinating profile piece on this unique bartender, the way the story played out was fascinating as well.
The key part is the “ten” section, which happens as they’re recounting the competition. Throughout this time, the video has been going in chronological order – but at 9:44, when Gokan learns that he’s running out of time, the perspective suddenly changes to explain the cocktails themselves. During this seeming tangent, brand new information is also shared about how he had studied both tea ceremony and sherry. When I first watched the video, I wondered why they hadn’t mentioned those two points earlier. But coming to the ending, where they share Gokan’s new venture into shochu, it made sense – in terms of the kishoutenketsu structure, that is.
Without that moment of divergence at 9:44, the story would have played out in a typical 3-act, Hero’s journey structure, with the hero having attained the ultimate prize. Even though the climax was quite moving, I don’t think I would have left feeling as surprised or inspired.
Part of it I think is due to us becoming like those who were at the event during that moment of divergence: surprised at the combination of tea and sherry, and then a moment later, the display of selflessness and camaraderie. The other part is due to us also getting an intimate look into Gokan’s perspective. The divergence offers a sudden insight into what he was likely feeling as he was creating the cocktail in that moment, putting on display for all to see what he had learned up to that point. It reminded me of how so much of our personal history, our striving and hard work, are things that only we know. To put that on display is a choice that not many would take and shows a ton of courage on Gokan’s part, and why I was so moved by the end of the video.
Again, this isn’t an argument of kishoutenketsu being a “better” narrative structure than the Western 3-act structure, but a study of how these two structures help to tell different stories. If the “lesson” of the story had been about conquering the competition or the events of the competition, then perhaps a 3-act structure would have been more fitting. However, to support Gokan’s personal philosophy, kishoutenketsu was a much more appropriate structure to use, highlighting instead the confidence and experience Gokan gained through the competition to continue to push his skills and venture into new areas.