「清盛、死す」 (Kiyomori, Shisu)
“Because I could not stop for Death He kindly stopped for me”. Or in Kiyomori’s case, not so kindly.
To nobody’s surprise (except for Kiyomori and most of the other Taira), Kiyomori pays his dues to karma and to King Enma (the king of Hell) with messengers from the Underworld arriving to take him to Avici Hell. Avici Hell is the most pain-filled part of hell reserved for the most serious transgressors who did things like cause conflict among the Buddhist community, which Kiyomori certainly did in his dealings with the Enryakuji, Onoji, and others. What is described as Kiyomori suffering the boiling rages of Avici Hell is speculated by some modern sources to have been a strep infection or scarlet fever, explaining the fever and reddish hue of his body. His death by slow, internal boiling is apt considering how much burning he did in his rampages against the Todaiji and Kofukuji temples.
The Kofukuji temple is the Taira’s latest act of arson, this time retaliating against the Onjoji monks for various acts of insubordination, including having sheltered the Taira Public Enemy Prince Mochihito prior to his death at the Uji Bridge battle. Incidentally, Kofukuji Temple was established by a Fujiwara centuries prior. The Taira vs. Fujiwara enmity certainly goes deep. Perhaps it’s just me, but the background music is incredibly irritating. That thumping beat in the background whenever a battle is about to go down sounds more like the Taira are readying to go clubbing rather than to an epic battle.
The Onjoji monks certainly aren’t as innocent as the scenario paints them out to be (though certainly not egregious enough to warrant burning down the temple). They provoked the Taira through threatening Kiyomori’s messengers and playing Kick Kiyomori’s Head with the ball.
I find it intriguing how the anime chose to use a simple children’s game to frame the time of year. In the book, the monks play Kick Kiyomori with Kemari (kicking a ball into the air without letting it touch the ground) which as far as I know, was not associated with a particular time of year. In the anime, they play Gitcho (otherwise known as Buriburi Gitcho), where boys would hit a puck with a stick (the Gitcho). Gitcho was typically played during the New Year’s holiday, setting the scene of Kiyomori’s end at the beginning of the year.
In spite of Kiyomori’s iron-willed determination to control his fate and fortune, everything around him is falling apart with uprisings happening left and right. Including Tokuko’s refusal to allow him to play her directly into Go-Shirakawa’s hands (or rather, bed) after Retired Emperor Takakura’s death. The creepiness of marrying her off to her father-in-law aside, Tokuko asserts her dignity as a human rather than a pawn.
In a rather beautiful song, Tokuko ponders the truth that being born into a particular fate doesn’t mean that one can’t flourish or free themselves from it. The Dragon Girl in her song is Longnü, who in Chinese Buddhism is the daughter of the dragon king who lives under the sea. At the ripe young age of 8 she became enlightened, but because in that tradition, females cannot become fully enlightened beings, she was turned into a male. (Which is why Tokuko sang the line about how women are distant from the Pure Land (paradise)). The imagery of overcoming physical limitations is poignant-even though Tokuko was born trapped in the physical world of the Taira’s greed, she can still seek after enlightenment that will spiritually raise her above the mire of Taira sins.
In addition to asserting her humanity in her defiance to Kiyomori, Tokuko makes clear her loyalty to Takakura. Even after his death, the anime still pushes the whole Tokuko + Takakura romance angle with Biwa’s vision of his ghost embracing Tokuko and the infant Emperor Antoku. I would rather they didn’t shoehorn that modern take on their relationship, but it is representative of the anime as a whole-Genpei War/late Heian served with a side of the 21st century.