Reviews of Mushishi (2005) and related work

Mushishi (2005Moving picture, 10 hours)

A peaceful time in Japan, possibly a Japan that never opened up as in reality. Some people see forms of life that are neither animal nor plant, but something much more fundamental: usually mindless creatures of great variety, called mushi. A few of them can harm humans by accident, parasitism or self-protection. The results often look like disease, but can be far stranger. A profession has arisen to collect and study the mushi, exploit their useful properties and help people live with them. That profession is the mushishi.

Episodic, nihilist primary-world fantasy, occasionally close to horror and mystery, but usually serene.

It is probably relevant that the Japanese use about 70 different species of mushrooms in their native cuisine. Shintō and its musubi also play a part in the foundations of this fantasy world, and it may be relevant that the mushi radical that appears in the word 虫 has its origins in Chinese monster mythology, though not in the later pharmacopeia of Chinese alchemists.

Some of the life forms in this series are described as underpinning or being otherwise involved in natural phenomena, like volcanoes, rendering nature unnatural and blurring cosmology, but most are creatures of more modest fantasy, perhaps even unrelated to folklore, geomancy and other real-world influences. Each one has clever logical quirks. Far from all yield to human action or comprehension. A few shining moments challenge anthropocentrism.

moving picture Japanese production animation fiction series

Mushishi (2006Moving picture, 131 minutes)

Ōtomo Katsuhiro (director).

The special effects are surprisingly low-key but expectedly inadequate. The atmosphere of the series never arises, and I’m told it’s too confusing to function as an introduction, being entirely episodic anyway. Some good details, but wasted and unmotivated in its change of medium.

moving picture remake Japanese production fiction