「残り紅」 (Nokori Beni)
Another week, another episode about old couple generally satisfied with their lives. How many episodes about old people can we sustain? In Mushishi‘s case, the answer seems to be, ‘as many as necessary’. Lingering Crimson is essentially a companion piece to last week’s Fragrant Darkness. It’s also a story about the past and about regrets, but this time specifically about guilt.
In a different world, Mikage (Suzuki Reiko) would just be a senile old woman, and her husband Youkichi (Nishimura Tomomichi) jokingly calls her as much. Of course, in a world with mushi we can never just take things at face value (even if, sometimes, a bruise is just a bruise). It always strikes me, though, how little its inhabitants understand their own world. Upon finding a Mikage instead of an Akane, the villagers start to suspect that she’s the child of demons. I don’t expect education to be a thing in a subsistence society, but one would think handing down folktales about mushi would be more useful than tales about demons. The West, too, has tales of changelings and fey interferences, from a time when superstition was still our main means of understanding the world. Perhaps paranoia about demons is simply a necessary survival mechanic when being less apprehensive can get you killed. ‘Demons’, however, imply willful malevolence, some sort of directed malice against humans. That would, in turn, imply that they care about humanity. The mushi do not. They are essentially phenomena, gods with inscrutable whims. The world is simply cold to human misfortune.
The mushi of the week, the Oomagadoki, plays up the mushi as phenomena angle more than most. Nobody really knows exactly what it does, let alone why it does it. It just sometimes reaches into the human world and takes someone away. It’s notable how neither Mikage nor Youkichi ever actually blame the mushi for their situation. If mushi are merely phenomena, then it is the actions of human, stepping on shadows, that are the most telling. Mikage is the one who chooses to make a victim of Akane in her place, and Mikage is the one who feels the guilt. Yet, Youkichi also feels contrition, and it is Youkichi who finds a tragic sort of atonement. The greatest sin, Mikage feels, is that they she was happy. But who can really blame another for being, in their ignorance, happy? Youkichi forgives Mikage her happiness, but could not do so for himself. It’s almost as if Mikage passed on something to Youkichi as well, much like the curse of the Oomagadoki. Guilt casts a long shadow over many lives, and shadows are the longest at dusk. The Lingering Crimson is an offer of two choices: living in an eternal twilight with the Oomagadoki, or living in an eternal twilight with your sin. To simply forget the past, and remain unaware of its shadows, may be the only mercy we can be offered.