External Movie Reviews: Mushi-shi Vol. #2

Note: This article was originally written for Advanced Media Network. Its editorial style differs from reviews for this site.

The second volume of Mushi-shi continues the same magical atmosphere conjured up so wonderfully on the first disc, and that atmosphere was a big part of the reason for watching this show in the first place. And now that the show’s nailed down the basics — the mysterious organisms called mushi, and the wanderer named Ginko who knows their secrets and aids others in dealing with them — it’s now starting to expand on the original premise and use it as an arena for even deeper things. The stories are not really about the mushi, but the people who come into contact with them — good, bad, indifferent, ambitious flawed, what have you — and how they are changed by the experience. It wouldn’t be wide of the mark to talk about the show as a kind of environmentalist parable: We all bear some responsibility for our effects on our world; it’s madness for us to simply use it thoughtlessly and not learn to coexist wisely with it. And finally, the show continues to deliver one lushly beautiful image after another, like a living storybook. It’s the sort of show you could just watch with the sound off, like a piece of video art, but then you’d miss out on the poetic dialogue and Toshio Masuda’s spare, precise gamelan-and-piano score.

The five episodes on disc 2 do seem to be more explicitly concerned with the effects mushi have on societies and people-in-the-specific, instead of just being ruminations on the different ways mushi can manifest. In “Those Who Inhale the Dew,” the inhabitants of a small island habitually designate on of their own as a “living god,” one who can heal ills and perform miracles at no small personal cost. The current living god, a girl named Akoya, doesn’t understand that her powers are due to a mushi — and her father doesn’t even understand that her powers are real (he’s still convinced the miracles she can work are entirely due to the power of suggestion). To uncover the truth of the matter means running the risk of disrupting the balance of things on the island — it means destroying one way of life and replacing it with another, something that never happens without pain.

In “Raindrops and Rainbows,” Ginko crosses paths with a man who is quite literally chasing rainbows: his father ran into a mushi that manifested as a rainbow, and has since acquired his father’s own obsession with capturing a rainbow. Ginko spells out the difference between the mushi he’s chasing and a real rainbow, and the way the episode plays out is less about the dynamics of the mushi and more about the way burdens are transmitted, sometimes unthinkingly and carelessly, across the generations.

“Where Sea Meets Man” uses the presence of the mushi as a plot device to explore the estrangement between a husband and a wife, and also touches on an idea we’ve seen explored elsewhere in the series — the notion that mushi have their own sense of time, and things that unfold on one timescale to human beings are taking place in an entirely different way for both mushi and those under their spell. The mushi in “The Heavy Seed” are used to address questions similar to the ones in “Dew” — can a society that has become dependent on an injustice to survive ever completely change? In this case, it involves a village whose harvest depends on someone becoming a sacrificial victim of sorts, a cycle where the mushi play an intimate part. And in episode 10, “The White Which Lives Within the Ink Stone,” an artisan has to deal with the consequences of having unthinkingly employed a mushi in one of her pieces of work.

What I like most about this show is how it is never in a hurry. It is patient. It explains, it demonstrates, but it ultimately just allows you to watch and listen and draw your own conclusions about what goes on. It’s one of the few shows I’ve seen where the audience is a participant and not just a passive receptacle for whatever noise and movement the filmmakers throw at us.

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This page contains a single entry by Serdar in the category External Movie Reviews | Movies, published on September 9, 2007 1:08 AM.

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