While Mushi-Shi The Movie cannot claim to have many ties to anime-giant Funimation (after all, it is a 2006 live action film that has cleaned up at movie festivals), the franchise itself is deeply rooted in the anime/ manga industry. Yuki Urushibara was the mastermind behind the original manga (which was awarded an Excellence Prize for manga at the 7th Japan Media Arts Festival in 2003) and a rich 26-episode animated series followed shortly thereafter in 2005.
In 2006, amidst the successful run of the anime, Katsuhiro Otomo directed this live-action incarnation, which enjoyed its world premiere at the 2006 Venice Film Festival. It then opened in Japanese theatres in March of 2007.
Released to North American markets at last, Funimation has acquired the exclusive rights to the motion picture, which occupies a single disc within a standard-sized DVD case. Runtime comes in at 131 minutes and language options follow the standard set in the anime business: Original Japanese dialog (in stereo) and an English dub option in Dolby 5.1 Surround. English subtitles are available with either voice choice.
The film wears an appropriate TV 14 rating due to the slightly disturbing imagery though the film does a wonderful job of steering clear of sexual situations, foul language, or glorification of gore.
Extras on the release include a host of deleted & extended scenes (opposed to the theatrical release), Mushi-Shi premieres, original trailer, and a crop of coming attractions (which includes live-action features).
The story, which basically follows the format established in both the manga and the anime, goes something like this: In turn of the century Japan, a mysterious traveler named Ginko arrives to a small village where he happens upon a houseful of individuals afflicted with inner-ear trouble. As fate would have it, the traveler is one of few living Mushi Masters; an individual who has devoted his life to studying strange, iridescent parasites called Mushi.
What's more, these parasites cannot be seen by everyone, which of course makes them particularly dangerous as their choice for entering their host (human or animal) is through the ear.
Infection of the parasite results in deafness and the appearance of four small, upward curving horns on the forehead (which are capable of detecting new sounds that unaffected men cannot hear; whispers and ringing bells).
The tone of the film is surprisingly serious, with near-constant tension and mysteriousness. It requires a certain level of patience and willingness to sit back and allow the film to weave its story. Action-lovers will probably be disappointed but horror-film fans will probably have little trouble adapting into the proper state of mind by the mysterious series of events with which the film opens.
Some have expressed extreme disappointment in earlier American-renditions of the film, which, like many foreign properties before it, brutalized the subtleties and genius of the original in translation. If you seek examples, consider this: The original English translation was titled "The Bugmaster"; a name used to identify Ginko as the Mushi themselves was translated simply as "bugs".
In my opinion, viewing the creatures as a simple bug infestation certainly downplays the mysteriousness and borderline-disturbing nature of the creatures. These aren't the type of pests that one can get rid of by calling in the Orkin Man. Instead, there's mysticism at work here that builds well by playing off the natural scenery and darkened environments of the film.
Jô Odagiri's portrayal of Ginko is quite impressive as well thanks to an affinity of confidence-filled grins and slow, deliberate motions.
The dub is decent and certainly holds up pretty well against the original dialog, though not quite as smoothly as the generic mouth flapping that anime allows. Once the initial distress of lips that do not match the dialog fades, expect a solid job by the English voice actors coupled to the benefits of Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Sound.
Pacing is fairly slow and methodic throughout but for the most part, well done. Films like this rely upon tension and release in its prose rather than endless action sequences or CG-induced visual overload.
About the biggest source of confusion comes in the form of the frequent flashback sequences that without the benefit of some corny wavy screen-wipe effect could easily be mistaken for current events. These segments, which can be identified by a woman with the same silver hair as Ginko, are in fact memories of Ginko's distant past. The silver haired woman is in fact Nui; young orphan Ginko's own mentor and her teachings are the type of philosophical infusing one might expect should be present in an Asian film.
Perhaps the picture's greatest strength lies not in what's seen but in what isn't- as in dimly lit sets, misty mountainsides, and minimal-use of the computer-generated parasites all add up to a creepy undertone that works extremely well. It's often said that some of the finest tension-thrillers are those where the villain is rarely seen on screen (but left to the viewer's imagination). Ridley Scott has reiterated this point when discussing his 1979 film, ALIEN time and time again and indeed, it's the quick shots of the monster that make it so terrifying and keep viewers studying the shadows in every scene.
In all, this movie certainly isn't for everyone. As stated above, it takes a certain level of patience and commitment from the viewer to fully enjoy. The over-two-hour runtime can feel long and tedious if approached with the wrong expectations. The tones and themes here are definitely much heavier and more depressing than those presented in the anime, manga, and video game incarnations of the property. In all though, a very unique picture that will surely impress those who view artistry and emotionally driven storytelling as one in the same.