Mushishi (aka The Bugmaster) DVD review

Tony didn't always understand quite what was going on in Mushishi - but that's not to say he doesn't recommend giving it a spin...

Mushishi: strange, but worth it

Based on the Manga series of the same name, Mushishi (released in English-speaking regions with the rather less appealing title, The Bugmaster) is directed and co-written by Katsuhiro Otomo, who also filled the same roles in the production of the now legendary anime Akira. When you consider that he also co-wrote Osamu Tezuka’s Metropolis, you should get a fair idea of what to expect from this movie. Like his most famous of projects, Mushishi is deeply complex at times, and often drifts into the realms of the incomprehensible.

Set at the turn of the 20th century, it follows the adventures of an enigmatic, white-haired young man by the name of Ginko, who travels all over Japan, studying Mushi (referred to as Bugs in the sub-titles). As far as I could tell, Mushi, rather than being plain old insects, are tiny creatures imbued with some kind of magical force. They’re a necessary part of life, but they often have negative effects on humans.

For example, at the beginning of the film, Ginko is called to a house infested with a kind of Mushi that eats sound. As a result, everyone in the household has gone deaf in one ear, and as a Mushishi, Ginko is in charge of sorting out the problem. However, the lady of the house has a granddaughter, who is affected in a different way. She is bombarded by strange noises, and has also grown a nifty set of horns on her forehead. I won’t say why, but I will say that for a good chunk of the explanation, I had no fucking idea what was going on. Indeed, as I’ve already suggested, this is a common theme throughout the movie.

Equally as difficult to understand are the flashbacks from Ginko’s past, in which we’re introduced to his mentor, Nui. Sporting the same silver hair, she’s an endless source of spiritual philosophy, and speaks in a way that can best be described as utter bollocks. Her scenes are easily the worst, and often grind this already slow movie to a complete halt. Of course, if you’re into long speeches about eternal darkness and one-eyed fish, this will be right up your alley. If, however, you’re not a goth or a lunatic of some sort, you’ll probably end up baffled.

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Fortunately, in spite of Mushishi’s many flaws, it’s not an entirely unpleasurable viewing experience. Taking in the wild mountainous terrain of Japan, it’s a beautifully shot movie, and makes good use of CGI, enhancing what’s on screen, rather than dominating it. At times, it looks so good, you could easily enjoy watching Mushishi regardless of what the characters are up to.

Also providing a highlight is Nao Omori as Koro, a simple man that Ginko meets in his travels. Koro is on the road, looking to capture a rainbow, which unsurprisingly isn’t as impossible as it sounds. As the story progresses, the two men bond, and become good friends. In the context of some of the other subplots, this simple relationship is welcome, as it gives a semblance of normality to this bizarre tale.

By the time you get to the finale of this two-hour-long movie, you might, like me, feel somewhat exhausted, and glad that it’s over. At times, its pace was so pedestrian, I was tempted to check my DVD player to make sure it wasn’t playing in slow motion. That said, I didn’t feel like I’d wasted my time, as it’s loaded with the kind of imagery that stays with you long after you’ve finished watching the film.

3 out of 5


3 out of 5