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Original Title:

Japan 2006

Mystery, Fantasy

Katsuhiro Ohtomo

Jo Odagiri
Yu Aoi
Makiko Esumi
Nao Ohmori
Reia Moriyama
Makiko Kuno
Hideyuki Inada
Baku Numata

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aka Mushishi

Story: The Mushi are beings of a different nature than what is known to us. Only few people can see them and generally they live besides us without us ever realizing it. Sometimes, though, it happens that these beings have a certain influence on our lives. In order to help those people that get ill because of the Mushi Ginko (Jo Odagiri), a so-called Mushishi, wanders rural Japan. Along the way he runs into Mushi that eat the sounds of their surroundings and make the affected deaf and into a wanderer who is chasing after a rainbow which actually is a Mushi as well.
Ginko can't remember his childhood when he was taken in by Nui (Makiko Esumi), also a Mushishi, and had an encounter with a Mushi which made him forget his past and even his name. Eventually, Ginko's past catches up with him, though, since a Mushi took possession of him since that day. He seeks advice from Tanyu (Yu Aoi) who has an extensive collection of writings about all the Mushi spotted yet. But she herself is plagued by a Mushi as well which now even threatens to take her life.

Review: There is one thing that has to be pointed out right at the beginning of this review: "Mushishi" ist the best anime series I've seen thus far. In an incredibly romantic, dreamy, but at times also creepy fashion the worlds of humans and nature coincide. The little stories around the Mushishi Ginko can be extremely touching and because of the many philosophical aspects they make us sense a world behind ours that is full of magic in its purest form. The at some times abstract stories aren't always easy to mentally grasp but with our hearts we gain such a profound understanding of them in every episode that it leaves us with a pleasent shiver running down our spine. So how is such an outstanding anime supposed to be adopted for the big screen appropriately? Things are even made more difficult as the anime stood out from others because of its beautiful and breathtaking drawings. The adaption therefore has to deliver a remarkable cinematography on the one hand and on the other it has to capture the magic of the series. And to get to the point, it doesn't manage to do so. Disappointment was inevitable for me so it's even the more surprising that "Bugmaster" still managed to disappoint.

"Bugmaster" takes four episodes of the anime and interweaves them loosely at times and at others more firmly. Here, one of the movie's strengths becomes apparent. The stories are linked to each other pretty well. The first story is some kind of introduction that shows us what Ginko is precisely doing while through some flashbacks we are constantly told about his past of which he himself doesn't know. In the end he has to face his past, though, whereas the wanderer, who chases after a rainbow since it depicts a bridge to his father, and Tanyu, a girl that carries a Mushi within her which she wants to get out of her by making notes about the stories of Mushis she hears, help him. Where the movie falters, however, is to introduce the characters properly. Ginko remains extraordinarily cold and colorless. As expected it proved to be difficult to bring this character to the big screen adequately. Because Ginko himself seems to be a bit removed from reality and still his deadpan humor and the nonchalance with which he faces even the most grotesque cases have something impressive about them so that we could easily relate to him in the anime despite the many questions surrounding his character.

Jo Odagiri ("Azumi", "Dream") unfortunately can't be fully convincing in his role. Ginko simply remains inscrutable and only in the middle part of the movie we get the feeling to be watching the same Ginko we know from the anime. That's sad, because this really is a fascinating individual and so the peek into his past could have been a lot more exciting.
Moreover, it also might be rather difficult for many viewers to follow the abstract stories. Even the more as we start to have questions that never came up in the anime thanks to its magical nature. What exactly are the Mushi and where do they come from? And in fact this question isn't really of importance. However, especially tragical is the fact that it never really comes across that the Mushi are simply living entities, neither good nor evil. Sometimes they just have a certain influence on the world of humans and then a Mushishi is needed to redress the balance between both worlds. Furthermore, "Bugmaster" is also only for patient viewers. The story unfolds slowly and has its very own pacing. With its running time of around 130 minutes it's also not really a short movie.

The good thing is that the meditative pacing sometimes makes us catch a glimpse at the magical nature of the source material. Unfortunately, you can't say the same about the cinematography. The colors are lacking somehow. Despite some nice outdoor shots of nature and mist-covered mountains nature doesn't really come to life as in the original. The grainy look, especially in the flashbacks, maybe wasn't such a wise decision either. Generally, you had to expect more of director Katsuhiro Ohtomo who himself started his career in the anime genre since he is responsible for the much laudated "Akira". He doesn't manage to capture the essence of the anime. Apart from that the wonderful soundtrack is replaced by a more unspectacular one which also features a didgeridoo. Another reason why this movie might seem a bit alienating for many viewers. "Bugmaster" is thus only for those who have a weakness for extraordinary stories.

What makes me especially strict with "Bugmaster" is the bad ending since it has no emotional impact at all. This just can't be right with the material of an anime that in fact managed in almost every episode to move the viewer to tears as it touched some spots within you that only seldomly anyone ever manages to touch. There is only one scene in "Bugmaster" that can be a bit moving and that is the one in which Ginko and the wanderer find the rainbow. At least the effects deserve some praise, especially the Japanese characters that are coming to life and have to be recaptured by Tanyu are converted to the movie quite well. Apart from that, it becomes apparent in every respect that maybe some stories don't work in any medium. Maybe the extraordinary and magical stories around the Mushi are better off in the anime genre and only there. Despite that it remains certain that one could have made a far better movie from the wonderful source material. That's especially sad concerning "Mushishi" which truely deserves to be seen by a wider audience...

(Author: Manfred Selzer)
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