“Floral Delusion” 「花惑い」
“Ancient trees come to possess souls and thus enthrall the hearts of men. Should the tree be beauteous in bloom, the effect is even more profound.”
Mushishi is in form! We’re halfway through the series and slowly we’re delving into episodes that are darker and more sinister. Episode 01 was a refresher into the world of Mushishi but throughout episodes 02 – 05, the main characters involved have all been children, each child older than the one before as the show progresses. Those episodes featured themes of friendship, loneliness, grief, fear and self-loathing, all themes general enough about life. This week, we finally get an episode about the adults and likewise, kid gloves come off as we consider the hypnotic effect the beauty of Saho has on gardener Masaki, going as far as to commit murder for her. The last 2 episodes had horror elements but this week, there were a couple of moments when I actually thought Mushishi was turning into a psychological thriller!
Masaki comes from a long line of gardeners, 300 years in fact. The first generation of the family was a man named Mansaku, who found Saho as a crying infant seemingly abandoned in the hole of a sakura tree, sucking on the tree’s pink foam sap. He took her in as his own but Saho grew very slowly (she was an infant for a decade), sustaining on just the foam. She’s an intricate part of the family, being taken care of for generations as she outlived everyone. By now, she is a full grown woman and the first time Ginko saw her, he was captivated (a first!) by her beauty so radiant it gave him chills. Ginko doesn’t know Saho’s been alive for that long of course. But he suspects that her near loss of sight and hearing is from consuming Kodama, the pink foam-like mushi that thrives in trees. In exchange, trees are long-lived and bloom spectacularly but animals will gradually lose one of its senses. Ginko didn’t realise the effect Kodama had on extending an animal’s longevity. He offers to help treat Saho by extracting the Kodama in her although such treatment might cut her life.
Here’s where things get real dark. As gardeners, Masaki’s family has for generations grafted different species of cherry blossom trees to achieve the best strain of blooming sakura. For generations (of men as heads of the household) they have loved Saho as though she was the spirit of the sakura tree itself and it’s true because in years when Saho’s in ill health, their sakura tree’s health suffers as well and vice versa. So how has this family for 8 generations, kept Saho alive (Kodama aside)? By grafting her head onto healthy, young women’s bodies all through the 300 years. And we see Masaki attempting to do the same here as Saho’s body is ravaged with illness. Family of psychopaths… Ginko thwarts his plan, saves an innocent woman and razes the house down in a fire. Saho is rescued but slowly, the Kodama slips out from her neck (graft line) onto the family sakura tree, eventually slipping away. But not before exclaiming Mansaku’s name one last time to not do something to her – presumably, graft her. The house is burnt, Saho is gone and Masaki’s nowhere to be found.
I missed the blossoming of cherry blossoms this year but this episode more than made up for it (hence the extra images for your use as wallpaper). Each week of Mushishi has been colour-themed too – blue, white, mustard yellow, green and now pink. The story of spirits inhabiting trees is a common one in many cultures’ folklore and such spirits are more often than not, that of beautiful women. Even if you’re unfamiliar with such stories one can interpret this week’s episode as man will do all he can to retain a good thing for as long as he can even if it means going to extreme (and criminal) efforts. Just look at the beauty and anti-ageing industry! The Japanese have a national obsession with sakura and trust me, you’ll get caught up in it when you’re there because sakura blooms for just that one week before it scatters away slowly to the ground. It is with acknowledging its ultimate “death” that you learn to treasure its short “life” hence the many hanami parties to celebrate Spring, the beginning of life. Masaki’s family obsessed over the beauty and perfection of Saho which led them to forget to appreciate what they had, causing them to cruelly extend her life by grafting her over and over again against her will, just to preserve that radiance. Nothing (beauty) and no one lasts forever and it is with that knowledge that we last but for a fleeting moment that makes life all the more worth savouring while we are in bloom.