All I remembered was the bridge.
I've been looking forward to this episode a lot, because it was almost a complete mystery to me. I'd forgotten everything about the characters, everything about the plot, everything about the mushi involved. Everything except the bridge.
That god-forsaken bridge.
|It takes a few different forms.|
There's a certain poetic beauty and impetus intrinsic to the concept. A bridge to save yourself on, that only appears for a single night every 20 years. A bridge to take you away from your past life and towards a new future, but one on which you can't turn back once you've taken the first step. I guess I can see why that stuck in my memory the way it did.
There are actually a lot of interesting themes in this episode, as is typical with the brand of beautiful, reflective tragedy that Mushishi does so well. Just to look at one, where you draw the line between "brain-dead" and regular dead? Which one is better? Are either? But the question that always stands out the most to me is this: can you cross the bridge?
That's the question asked of Zen, our protagonist for the episode. He tried three years ago in an attempt to elope with Hana, a fellow villager who was going to be married off to some faraway family. That crossing failed, drastically; Hana fell off the village's weak vine bridge and emerged a few days later from the ravine below, a hollow shell of her former self. Zen returns as well, his failed escapade resulting only in shame, guilt, and ostracization.
It's not a bridge you can cross with other people.
As it turns out, Hana didn't quite survive the fall. Ginko visits the village and discovers that her body is merely a vessel for a mushi called Nise-Kazura. She's little more than a glorified solar panel, storing the sun's energy for the mushi until they become strong enough to travel on their own. Hana is the only thing keeping Zen in the village, and it turns out she's not really there. And still, he stays. That's all you need to keep you from crossing, even when there's a bridge right in front of you; just an illusion of the thing you love. It doesn't matter if it still really exists or not; you just need to convince yourself it might. That's enough.
And convince himself Zen does. Right up to the very end, until the Nise-Kazura leave Hana's body and he sees her limp corpse falls to the ground, he believes that his love yet lives. He believed that there was a reason to stay long enough for that very reason to crumble out from under him. Only then does Zen feel he can go, but now there's only one way out of the village: the "One-Night Bridge", made up of all the migrating Nise-Kazura. A bridge where, if you turn back, you fall.
"Can you cross the bridge?"
Zen tries. He tries to leave the village behind him. He tries to forget them. He tries to forget Hana. He tries to forget. . .everything.
He fails. He falls.
And all it takes to is a single memory of Hana. That's all. Just one glimpse of the thing you loved, and your resolve melts.
On a final note, I see a lot of Zen in myself. Too much, really, but maybe that - more than the bridge itself - is why this episode sticks with me; because really, the bridge is a part of Zen. There plenty of "villages" that I really need to leave. I've tried to move past them, but just like Zen, I can't bring myself to do it, even when I know the things I stay for are nothing more than illusions. Years later, though, the impetus has come to me all the same; the body is cold and dead, the illusion gone. When I realize that, all I can think of is this episode, and its single burning question:
"Can I cross the bridge?"
I find it interesting that the Nise-Kazura are depicted as strings in the context of what they do. They actually resurrect creatures, but there are (literal) strings attached. Taken one way, the imagery conjures the idea of some omniscient puppet master, restoring life but only to further its own enigmatic ends. Certainly an intriguing perspective.
It's worth drawing parallels between this and episode 8. Both protagonists fall to their own weaknesses, both have a signifier of that weakness (Hana as opposed to Michihi) embodied in some physical way, and both pay for their failures; Zen's fate, however, is far harsher than Shiro's. It's worth wondering why, I think.