In a Japan that may – or may not – have existed as it transitioned from the Edo Period to the restored Meiji Imperium, Ginko travels from town to town plying his trade as a “mushi master”. Mushi are the most fundamental form of life, closer to the cosmic life force than even the simplest one-celled organism. Neither malevolent nor benevolent, mushi simply are; but because they are so qualitatively different from human beings, when people and mushi come into contact, the results for humans can range from the inconvenient to the tragic. This is where Ginko comes into the picture: as a “mushi master”, he is one of the few humans alive who can actually see mushi, let alone recognise which species of mushi is present in any given situation, or the cure required to resolve that situation. But being a “mushi master” comes at a price. The very ability that gives Ginko the ability to see and deal with mushi also draws them to him; thus, he has to keep on the move in order to prevent potentially harmful mushi from conglomerating around his person. He also has to smoke constantly in order to keep individual mushi at bay. Ginko’s life is thus lonely and peripatetic; the gruff exterior he has developed to deal with this reality hides his gentle nature and compassionate heart. The life of a “mushi master” is hard: not just because of the solitude, but because people often don’t take Ginko’s advice, or because they seek his assistance too late for him to be able to do anything effective. And, of course, there are those rare mushi that are too powerful, or about which he knows nothing, and against whom his healing powers are to no avail…

Based on the critically acclaimed and popular manga by Yuki Urushiba, “Mushi-shi” was co-produced by Marvellous Entertainment, Avex Entertainment, and Sky Perfect Well Think, with animation by studio ArtLand, and appeared on Japanese television between October 2005 and March 2008. Animated in an understated hand-drawn style that evokes the traditional ink-wash painting school of ancient Japan, “Mushi-shi” proceeds in a series of self-contained tales that, while they have no overarching plot, nonetheless provide a “big picture” of Ginko’s solitary, restless existence. In doing so, they illustrate in profound terms what it means to be a healer: the sense of isolation from others, the patients who are their own worst enemies, the feeling of helplessness in the face of that which cannot be cured – and, ultimately, even in the event of a successful treatment, the reality that others only view you in transactional terms. Ginko can never meaningfully share the joy of his recovered patients, even as he bears the terrible responsibility for their well-being. But what might have become unbearably pessimistic or overwhelming in its bittersweetness is leavened by the gentle pacing of each tale, in which the movement of the wind down mountain valleys, the rustle of forest trees, and the morning birdsong are as much a part of the narrative as what is done and said.  Likewise, the small moments of connection and compassion which Ginko shares with a select number of people, and the quietly hopeful message that, even when confronted by forces we are powerless to control, life and living are nonetheless to be valued, prevent “Mushi-shi” from toppling into nihilism and despair. Folkloric in its narrative essence, and deeply atmospheric in its execution, “Mushi-shi” is a beautifully realised homage to the largeness of the human heart and the small, important joys that are available to us all. A second series aired in 2014, as did two television “specials” based on side-tales in the original manga; a feature film premiered in 2015.

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