Mushi-Shi: The Movie
FUNimation // Unrated // $24.98 // August 25, 2009
Review by John Sinnott | posted August 26, 2009
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The Movie:
The 2005 anime series Mushi Shi, based on the manga series of the same name, was one of my favorite animated releases of 2007.  It was a hit in Japan too, and like we do here in the US, if something is big in Japan that means a theatrical movie (live action in this case) can't be too far away.  The film, simply titled Mushi-Shi: The Movie was released in 2006 and directed by Japanese animator Katsuhiro Otomo (Akira and Steam Boy).  With such a pedigree I was excited to hear that the movie was making its way onto a region one DVD thanks to FUNimation.  Unfortunately, while the anime was great the movie doesn't live up to that standard.  To make matters worse, the image on the DVD has some problems which makes this a disappointing disc.

This movie is a series of short stories strung together, and as such there's not a lot of plot.  The movie is set in a pre-technological Japan where Mushi exist.  Mushi are the most pure creatures that exist.  Not base and vulgar like humans or animals, Mushi are beings that are in touch with the essence of life.  Invisible to normal people, these creatures are all around us, though humans rarely interact with them.  When a Mushi does interact with a human, the results are usually bad.
One person who is able to see these creatures is Ginko, a Mushi-Shi or Mushi Master.  He travels the countryside carrying only a wooden box filled with herbs and potions on his back and helps people who have been infected with malicious or unwanted Mushi.  Though his travels he encounters many odd and bizarre situations things that only a Mushi-Shi would be able to understand.

Some of the odd situations he encounters include a village where everyone is deaf in one ear, a girl with horns who hears a horrible noise that no one else notices, a man trying to catch a rainbow in a large pot, and a beautiful woman who is infected with a Mushi and has to write down stories to keep it from taking her over.
Most, but not all, of the events are retold from the anime series, but where that was interesting and engaging, this movie just doesn't work well.  There are a couple of reasons for that.  The main thing is that the movie is very confusing.  I've seen the entire anime series and I wasn't sure what was going on in parts.  If this is your first encounter with the world of Mushi, you'd easily get lost and have no clue as to way things were happening.

One of the reasons the film is so disjointed is that it cuts Ginko's background story into the film without letting viewers knowing that's what's happening.  One scene Ginko is curing a Mushi infected girl, the next a little boy named Yoki is talking with an androgynous white-haired woman.  By the time it's revealed that Yoki is really Ginko as a lad, viewers will be hard pressed to care, especially since the big reveal was done in a low-key manner that would be easy to miss.
The film has a slow and deliberate pace, which isn't necessarily bad, but with a 2 hour + run time it will try the patience of a lot of viewers.  With Ginko just travelling from place to place helping people he encounters, the story is much better suited to a periodic comic or weekly TV series.  Here there is no overriding plot.  Though some of the stories are connected at the end, there isn't much mystery or suspense in the film, it just sort of meanders slowly from one tale to the next. 
The DVD:

 Viewers have the choice of the original Japanese soundtrack or an English dub, both in DD 5.1.  While there have been some good dubs lately, this isn't one of them.  The English actors only did a so-so job in the spots that I checked.  They were trying to hard, putting a little bit too much emotion into the voices in this subtle movie.  I did enjoy the Japanese track, and though it only made use of the whole soundstage a few times, when it did it was effective.
I have to admit I was really disappointed in the image.  The 1.78:1 anamorphic picture had some surprising defects, things I wasn't expecting to appear on a film made in 2006.  First the colors were boosted.  The greens of the lush forests were too bright and the blacks were way too dark.  Contrast was a problem too with details obscured in the few night scenes.  There's one scene were a woman is covered in black mud at night where it's hard to see what's going on.  Whites were nearly as bad coming across as too bright in many scenes and sometimes even blooming.
The image also had a significant about of digital noise, especially the opening scene of clouds covering a mountain pass.  This was distracting in a few scenes.  Added to that, the print itself had some problems.  There were a few spots here and there throughout the films running time.  While I expect that from a movie made 50 years ago, a movie as recent as this one shouldn't have such defects.   While I hate to say it, this is one of the worst looking DVDs I've seen in a while.
This disc also includes ten minutes worth of deleted scenes, none of which really would have added much to the film, a five-minute look at the premier of the film including a brief interview with the lead actor, and the original trailer.
Final Thoughts:
This film will only appeal to fans of the manga or anime series.  It's just too confusing and slow for anyone else.  Given that the film isn't really that successful in bringing the manga and anime to life, and that the image leaves a lot to be desired, fans should make this one a rental

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