「草の茵」 (Kusa no Shitone)
“Pillow of Grass”
It’s a minor source of curiosity for me that while Mushishi uses an English opening song, it’s so intrinsically Japanese. Its setting is a distinctive feudal Japan, and its mythology obviously inspired by Shinto. It’s of a time before humans had tamed the wilds and mastered its secrets, when nature was still profound but at the same time dangerous, inspiring both wonder and suspicion. Riding above all that is an abiding sense of ephemerality—something much more commonly found in works from the East compared to the West—because ultimately Mushishi is about life, and with it life’s shadow, death. That’s heavy stuff, but never too dark, because while death is a poignant subject Mushishi always manages to find more value in living. This new episode of Zoku Shou is no different.
Road of Thorns was perhaps even heavier than usual for Mushishi, so our second half of Zoku Shou pulls back from that to tell a story from the childhood of our protagonist, Ginko (voiced, when as his younger incarnation, by Sawashiro Miyuki). For those of you new to Mushishi this is not the place to start; you will appreciate this series a lot more by starting from the very first season. If you did, then you’d appreciate that this restart of Mushishi Zoku Shou still preserves all the good things you’ve come to expect of it and delivers an episode no less significant than its predecessors. Like them, Pillow of Grass is a self-contained narrative, but at the same time builds the overarching mythology of Mushishi‘s world. Not only do we learn more about the mechanics of the mountain lords and the Veins of Light, but also about the enigmatic mushi-shi as well. Zoku Shou had introduced mushi-shi of all stripes to us, and this episode revealed that some, just like normal people, are just simple scum, trying to use Ginko to establish an easy business model (and, as is common in the Mushishi world, their toying with the mushi backfires). It’s a good thing we have Suguro (Nakao Ryuusei) to serve as a proper father figure for the young Ginko. Kind, yet firm, Suguro teaches Ginko a life lesson. About life.
Ginko’s conflict this episode lies in his juxtaposition with the egg of the mountain lord. Ginko considers it ‘the chosen one’, while he considers himself the unwanted one. It’s an existential crisis, especially when he breaks the egg, with Ginko seriously questioning why he deserves to live. The lesson is one that is a central theme of Mushishi: all creatures strive for life, and thus all life is sacred. Ginko instinctively understands the will to live; the hungry Ginko saw food and did not hesitate to eat. Even the parasite in his eye is just struggling for survival. To think that only those that are ‘accepted’ deserve to live is human hubris. ‘There is no place in this world where we do not belong’. In pre-Industrial Japan, Suguro can confidently say that humans are just a part of nature. It’s a compliment; just look at what it is that we belong to. This is one of those episodes of Mushishi that really emphasises the beauty and majesty of nature, with many deliberate shots of flowers and landscapes (and both). The world of Mushishi is still an expansive frontier, and it, unlike us, accepts all life. Where you lay your head is home. Hence, Pillow of Grass.
One eye to the future
Mushishi is one of those series where I don’t really feel compelled to make predictions on its direction. It has always gone on consistently, one step at a time, content with its own pace. And I am content to just follow it as it goes. More than its plot, Mushishi has always invited its viewers to just soak in its world, its mythology, and its philosophy—in a natural manner, one might say. There is a journey here, made more apparent in Zoku Shou, but the emphasis is on taking in the sights as you go. Of course, I’d love to know more about the Forbidden Mushi, or revisit some of our old friends to see how they’re going. Such is my faith in Mushishi and the quality of its composition, though, that I’m happy just letting it reveal itself to us. I think that’s one of the highest compliments you can give any performance.