Directed by the anime genius that is Katsuhiro Otomo (who gave us such gems as “Akira”, “Domu: A Child’s Dream”, and “Steam Boy”), “Mushi-Shi” is the live-action adaptation of the anime series from 2006 of the same name. Released by Funimation for American viewers, this supernatural thriller has wowed audiences worldwide, including at the Sundance Film Festival, Venice International Film Festival, and the Toronto International Film Festival.
Taking it’s source material from a 26-episode long anime series, “Mushi-Shi: The Movie” had its work cut out for it from the start. Condensing that much of a plot into one movie is no easy task, but not having any knowledge of the series before seeing the movie, I never felt lost or that I was missing some crucial information from the original. After reading about the anime later, however, I am even more impressed with what this film has done for this unique story.
Taking place between the Edo and Meiji periods in Japan, a white-haired traveler named Ginko wanders the countryside, accepting offers to solve paranormal problems with mystical beings called “mushi”. These parasitic mushi come in a variety of forms, along with a mix of troublesome ways they feed off their hosts, and Ginko, being a mushi-shi, has the ability to see all of these beings and dispose of them. The first half of the film sees us learning about Ginko and his abilities to help a troubled village, and after that we dive into the story of who Ginko really is and to what extent these mushi will go to feed.
Ginko, played by Joe Odagiri, is a subtle character that reminds me of a cross between John Constantine from DC Comics “Hellblazer” and Osamu Tezuka’s “Black Jack”. Subtle is truly the word to describe all of the acting here, with each character feeling different from one another and truly immersing the viewer into their world. The backdrops and exteriors seamlessly push you in more and more with each scene and make you feel like you are part of this strange place where bug-like spirits wreak havoc only because they are hungry.
Otomo uses a very documentary-feel to the film in terms of photography and lighting, relying much on natural light to evoke the moody and dreary feel to the film. There is an isolating loneliness that this world has, which seems to softly fade away when more than one person is around. Most shots in the film rarely contain more than two people in the frame at once, and purposefully so to keep this feeling so powerful. Being a mushi-shi is a dangerous and lonely line of work as we learn, one not cut out for most people, and the cinematography reinforces how it must feel to be a character like Ginko and those who have similar abilities to him.
The mushi themselves are mostly CG, aside from some fish and snails, but are not fully-rendered apparitions. Most are white or black mist-like vapors that float around and consume things, and blend in like physical effects. Once again, subtlety is what rules the day with this movie, and the handling of the mushi was done to make them seem harmless in the beginning, and threatening by the end, all while looking like parts of nature.
In terms of being a horror anime, there is not much gore and zero jump scares. This is more an ambient film that methodically builds pressure with each scene, which ultimately culminates in the last act of the film where all mysteries are solved. There is a pretty gross scene where someone gets their arm stabbed, and I would normally not give out spoilers but this is one of those warnings where I feel I should, since most of the movie has very little violence whatsoever. This is not a slasher or killing movie, but an intriguing thriller and a journey for two characters.
One warning I will give to all viewers is that this movie is a long journey, clocking in at well over two hours long. “Mushi-shi” is a very slow-moving film that requires patience to get through, especially with the slow first act. Does the movie drag? Not necessarily, but it takes it’s time to set up the world and characters within it, giving you spoonfuls of each until the bottle is emptied. The second half of the movie does take some major turns from how it starts, and the conclusion can get a little trippy, but it’s still worth a watch.
The DVD that Funimation has released includes an additional ten minutes of deleted or extended scenes, some of which are not super necessary to the plot, but you can be the judge of what is relevant or not. There is also a short feature about the film’s premiere night that speaks with the cast of the film on the red carpet, and the original theatrical trailer for it.
You can buy Mushi-Shi: The Movie from Amazon.com for around $9 and is worth a shot if you enjoyed the anime series, or just want to see a very stylish movie with some impressive acting and effects. The beautiful imagery makes this very watchable, along with the expert performances from the entire cast and a captivating plot, so even if you are not familiar with the anime, I recommend it. It’s definitely something you won’t see everyday, but will be one of the more interesting movies you will get based on a Japanese cartoon.