Mushishi (film, 2008)


From Death Ray 12.

TWO AND A HALF STARS

2006/15/131 minutes

Director: Katsuhiro Otomo

Writers: Sadayuki Murai, Katsuhiro Otomo, Yuki Urushibara (manga)

Starring: Jo Odagiri, Nao Omori, Yu Aoi

A film based on a cartoon based on a comic gives us a quite pretty but very dull Japanese fantasy flick.

Though Mushishi comes to us via the helmsmanship of Akira‘s creator, this is not a film that is going to got your pulse racing, in fact, it was all I could do to keep from going to sleep. Based on the anime that is itself drawn from the long-running manga by award-winning artist Yuki Urushibara, the film details some of the adventures of Ginko (Odagiri), a travelling “Mushi Master” wandering Japan in the 1900s. Mushi are nature spirits, visible to a select few, who live off intangible things like darkness or sound. Though not inimical to humans, they can negatively affect people. Ginko’s job is to cure those who are thus afflicted.

Purely invented creatures like this, which form part of something complex like a folklore or parallel ecosystem, are difficult to introduce smoothly in a film. Bigfoot or fairies, or ghosts, or even oni being rooted in the popular consciousness, need little explanation to an audience. With things that spring only from one person’s imagination, you suffer the twin perils of audience unfamiliarity, which necessitates dull exposition, and the filmmaker becoming overly engrossed in the minutiae of the invention, which results in even more dull exposition, and that’s what happens in Mushishi: Ginko and his fellow practitioners endlessly banging on about what kind of Mushi does what to whom, when. Think of M Night Shyamalan’s Lady in the Water, where you have that Korean chick spouting on unconvincingly about Narfs and Scrunts in the rain. It’s exposition that doesn’t drive the film’s linked vignettes, but slows them down with the cardinal sin of telling, not showing. Worse, it doesn’t even tell you the right things. Like Akira, Mushishi demands you have an understanding of its world before you turn on your TV, so it remains enigmatic to the end.

The cinematography is glorious, the period detail lush, the sound design haunting, the CGI effects eerie. All the production values of the film, bar the flour-in-hair, Grecian 2000 make-up meant to turn Jo Odagiri’s beard and eyebrows grey, are top notch, and create an atmosphere that is blissfully quiet and as rich and deep as forest loam. It’s just a shame that it is all so dreadfully tedious.

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