“Beneath the snow” 「雪の下」
It’s time for our weekly lesson from Mushishi – this week’s theme is sorrow. It’s again a simple, quiet, understated episode, with beautiful background visuals but delivering a powerful message to viewers. I’ve not seen any other anime be able to translate such a strong message so simply and within just 24 mins and this is why I always come back for more Mushishi, week after week.Toki lost his younger sister Sachi when she fell through thin ice that formed over a freezing cold lake. They were walking together when the tragedy happened and so Toki blames himself for not protecting her or rescuing her in time. We share in Toki’s grief because within just 2 mins of simple dialogue, the Mushishi production staff managed to tug at our heartstrings so subtly to come to really like the innocent, cute and gentle-souled Sachi. It also helps that Mushishi always uses real children to voice child characters and the effects are compounded when it sounds so real – Usagi Drop being the other fine example.
Tokoyukimushi is a rare snow mushi that possesses an animal, slowly stealing warmth from it, causing never ending snow to fall around it. My interpretation of tokoyukimushi is that it represents sorrow. As Toki becomes possessed by it (sorrow), he slowly loses his warmth (feelings), his senses trick him into thinking he’s cold (emotionless) while his body continues to suffer from the effects of frostbite. He loses touch with other people, being constantly trapped by the never ending snow around him and being around anything warm be it a fire or simple human touch (concern), “burns” him. Like the sorrow he feels for Sachi, the tokoyukimushi has slowly consumed and isolated him from reality, enveloping him into the darkness of a snowy night. The character designs are realistic – sorrow has never been drawn more effectively than in Toki’s eyes.
Tae is Toki’s friend and she’s concerned that he’s changed, voicing her worry to Ginko who has stopped over to study the various snow mushi in this village of snow-covered mountains existing almost all year round. Toki’s become emotionless by the time Ginko makes a consultation. He doesn’t want to help himself and keeps his distance, choosing to go fishing alone in the lake. He observes that the snow doesn’t melt upon contact with the water of the lake, unlike what he told Sachi. Lost in his thoughts reminiscing, he falls over into the lake himself and sinks to the very bottom of the freezing water, not struggling, not feeling. He sleeps peacefully under a literal blanket of snow, in the same watery grave that took his sister, in a place where no one can reach out to disturb him. Eventually, the ice that had frozen over the lake had contracted and cracked (breaking point), waking him up from his icy slumber. He returns home, only to venture back to the lake because his confused mushi-induced state (denial) tells him that since he’s woken up, so must have Sachi. Tae reaches out to him, confronting him with the truth of how Sachi had died frozen cold in his arms. She reaches out to him, even if it meant walking on thin ice (oh how I love the metaphors in Mushishi I can’t get enough of it!).
It’s deja vu for Toki to see Tae fall through thin ice and although he’s rescued her from drowning, she needs to be warmed up. Don’t know if anyone else noticed how emotionless he sounds when showing concern for her. He carries her back to the village and her warmth (concern) burns his back, her warm beating heart searing into his cold body, her feelings of concern finally reaching him. He feels the heat emanating from her and starts to thaw, crying from the pain of frostbite he can now feel or crying from the loss of Sachi he has now allowed himself to feel. He regains his normal senses and feels so cold (sad) he can’t stand it anymore. But Tae is there and she needs help so he walks on through the snow because though there wasn’t time for Sachi, there is still time to rescue Tae.
Mushishi is that simple, that beautiful. Did you see it this week? Have you felt it?