Japanese Title: 蟲師
Release Date: March 24th, 2007 (Japan)
Running Time: 131 mins.
Director: Katsuhiro Otomo
Writer: Yuki Urushibara (Original Manga/Screenplay), Sadayuki Murai (Screenplay),
Starring: Joe Odagiri, Yu Aoi, Makiko Esumi, Nao Omori, Reia Moriyama, Reisen Ri, Lily, Hideyuki Inada,
Mushishi is based on Yuki Urushibara’s award-winning manga. It is a title which has captured imaginations because it was quickly adapted into a highly regarded award-winning anime in 2005-06. To cap it all off we get a live-action version.
This story of an itinerant spiritualist wandering through a Japan just entering the meiji era is beautiful and poignant with bits of human drama and nostalgia. This combined with the visuals formed a wonderful film which is a visual and aural feast that submerges the viewer in a narrative that evokes wonder.
Mushishi begins with long-held wide-angle shots of rain-soaked tree-covered mountains wreathed with mist. It feels like a scene from a primordial time before man has trod on the earth and a time where spirits could be lingering in this natural world.
The film then cuts to a shot of two people trudging along a muddy road that clings to the side of the mountain. The smallest figure, Yoki, is a boy moving from town to town with his mother who carries a heavy pack with all of their belongings. All talk about spirits lingering proves right as Yoki can see wisps of spirits emanating from the landscape. These are mushi (bugs), the phantom soul of nature which breathes through the living and the dead. Think of them like magical presences which can affect people in various, mostly negative, ways such as causing the growth of horns and sucking souls. Few people can see them but it seems that Yoki (Inada) is one of them. They fascinate Yoki who lags behind his mother on the road. Perhaps this is what saves him as a landslip causes trees and earth to careen down the side of the mountain and engulf the road he and his mother are on. His mother yells at him to run before she is swept away. When the smoke clears all we see is Yoki clawing through rocks trying to find his mother while an enigmatic figure with white hair steps into high angle shot and watches his futile effort. Her name is Nui (Esumi) and she will play a pivotal role in his future.
Cut to a snowy landscape and Yoki has grown up into Ginko (Odagiri), a humble mushi-shi (bug master) who travels around Japan with his huge chest of medicines and tools helping people beset with mushi problems by trying to solve, or at the very least, lessen the problems mushi cause. The film tracks a selection of his adventures such as his first where he wanders into a snow-bound village and discovers that the inhabitants have been infected by mushi who make the villagers deaf in one ear. By following Ginko we see that mushi are everywhere and affect people in various ways but he is not alone in tracking the mushi of the world as he reunites with a woman named Tanyu (Aoi) who chornicles the different mushi in Japan to tackle a fierce mushi which may be linked to his past.