20 June 2011 | ephemereality
The heart is there but in the wrong place
As most people would know by now, Mushishi is based off the manga with the same name, telling the story of traveler Ginko, a mushishi, or bug master. Because Ginko rarely stays in the same place for long, the manga is episodic in nature and unfortunately this is very hard to capture on the big screen that is better suited for grander stories with proper closures. The result is thus so-so at best, with the general feeling that when Mushishi really works it is fantastic, but most of the time it simply doesn't. A big problem why is because the episodic storytelling was attempted to be captured onto the big screen and the result is that we have four different plots but none of them truly relate to each other, making the movie itself feeling rather disconnected.
The first half almost seems to serve as a very weak introduction into the world of mushi, telling the story of how Ginko arrives in a remote mountain village during a snowstorm helping to cure the villagers from the parasitic mushi called Ah and Um. The general problem with this story is that it almost feels like it is there to take up space, but it does not engage the viewers like the original story did in the anime/manga, nor does it serve to fill any future purpose within the movie. In fact, I feel that if this portion of the movie had been removed and more focus has been put to flesh out the story about Ginko's background in particular, Mushishi could possibly had been brilliant. Now however, what we get is that we meet several characters a time but none of them aside from Ginko are not given much screen time thus making it impossible for the viewers to get to know them. Further, the small slice of life tidbits that are so common in the manga/anime are often not there at all, which unfortunately hurts the movie even more since these tidbits make up a large portion why Mushishi in fact is so enjoyable.
The result is that Mushishi in general feels very disconnected and there is no unity, and even though the pacing is slow the storytelling yet seems rushed because so much information is constantly left out. Would I not have read the manga and seen the anime beforehand, I am not entirely sure whether I could have understood a larger portion of the story at all.
However, Mushishi is not all bad. There are some positive aspects, especially the visuals. It is a very beautiful movie and the story between young Ginko and Nui is still captivating and engaging, as the movie attempts to push the story further than it was in the original manga wrapping it in mystery. It is sad this story wasn't fleshed out more instead of introducing side plots that really do not add anything. The acting also seems to be just as much as a roller-coaster as the story itself, where it is sometimes brilliant and sometimes really bad. While it is probably easier to accept Ginko if one had not read/seen Mushishi before, for people who have, he will most likely however feel very out of character in many situations, but in a few, it is completely spot on.
All in all, it is not a terrible manga adaptation, but it could definitely have been better. In general, it feels what Mushishi lacked was focus. It needed a focused story and it needed focused acting. Most of the time it delivered neither. Unfortunately, Mushishi is not something I would recommend others to watch unless they would already be die-hard fans of the original manga, but even then, I am sure they are to be disappointed. Mushishi has so much story and lore to work with, so it is sad to see this is the result. I definitely expected more than this. I also wished they had kept Toshio Matsuda's soundtrack they used for the anime. I felt it more strongly captivated the constant feeling of astonishment the world of Mushishi is able to induce.