2006 marks the last airing of Mushishi, a small journey within a rural Shinto-inspired Japan. It is, in essence, about harmony—emanating the struggle for humans to find balance in their lives and to attain kiyome (“purity”) among the cycles of nature.
Prospects of a sequel have been teased for a while now, and as time passed, hopeful fans were beginning to lose faith. Now, 8 years later, studio Artland and director Hiroshi Nagahama relaunch the series with a one hour-long Mushishi episode, entitled Hihamukage (“Sun-Eating Shade”).
Hihamukage is in tone with the original season, with a spiritual phenomenon kindling discord, followed by a diagnosis by the mushishi Ginko, and then character-driven drama bringing about resolution. In this case, the mushi “hihamukage” is cosmic in scale, blocking all sunlight and causing crops to wither and die. Hiyori, a young albino girl unable to stay under sunlight, must come to terms with her condition in order to save the village. The format is a consistent model that heaves a rhythm to Mushishi’s plot: we can recognize and predict the story’s end, but we always treasure the means by which Mushishi arrives there.
Mushishi is based all on naturality; there is nothing malicious, nothing violent or overtly sinister, nothing but the link between humans and nature as they coalesce and work in tandem to solve conflicts. Villagers are depicted to be unperturbed by all this (at first), routinely harvesting farmlands and going about their daily lives. It is by a change’s subtle effect that these activities come undone, having a much larger impact than if it were spurred spontaneously. The eerie yet serene aura of the hihamukage awes both character and viewer. Characters from previous episodes witness the eclipse as well, making a discreet cameo which will not fail to please the fans.
As the sun is blocked by the hihamukage, Hiyori realizes her newfound freedom to waltz around the village without a worry for her condition. Simply walking around, crossing the river, and splashing water as fish pass is exciting for Hiyori. There is something to be said about the joy of freedoms we take for granted. However, she too realizes this about the sun; it is vital to the well-being of the villagers and her family despite her protest for others to feel her suffering. Hiyori must learn to accept this fact, and the drama while she confronts it is nothing short of exemplary.
Part of what lends to this is the atmosphere, ranging from its lagging camera, its setting, its sounds, and its colors. Void silence assaults key moments in order to render them more impactful. Strings, loosely structured “clinks” and “clanks”, place emphasis not on the sound or the visuals, but the moment of the scene, to immerse you into Mushishi‘s rich world and observe it in the eyes of the characters. The landscapes are resplendent in sea-green grasses, but they are laid bare onto the blander browns of the farmlands and villages when the hihamukage ruins the land. The lighting is suggestive; visual actions such as Hiyori lying in darkness remain symbolic of an inner turmoil. Florescent white flowers make the climax all that more meaningful when the villagers destroy them, shoveling their way to the hihamukage’s root. Its exposure to the sun removes the darkness once again.
The manner in which Mushishi explicates its lush universe is also in tune with its storytelling: calm, unhurried inspection of the initial surroundings, followed by an omen that marks misfortune. Mystical and strange-looking, the mushi are inscrutable creatures bearing a likeness to folkloristic legends. Part of what makes the mushi so intriguing are all the diverse habitats that they live in. There is something familiar about every legend and every story, but they are different in such a way that they shock you; they confound you, and most of all, they inspire you.
Among other purposes, Hihamukage is an excellent addition to garner excitement for the new season. Artland and Nagahama have preserved the essential aspects of the series, and fans—whether old or new—will be astonished by the work’s subtleties. Mushishi‘s relaunch will not be one to forget.