Mushishi Zoku Shou Ep. 5: Regaining a sense of self

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It is important that Masumi ends up polishing her hand mirror on her own even if this means she is admitting defeat. For quite some time, she had always had that man to polish her hand mirror for her. We can thus see how the hand mirror operates as a metaphor for Masumi’s sense of self. Whenever you’re in a relationship — even if it’s ultimately a one-sided one — you tend to give yourself to the other person. All of a sudden, who you are becomes increasingly dependent on the other person’s love for you, real or otherwise perceived. Masumi thought the man had cared for her, and his care thus affirmed her purpose in life. When he suddenly threw their relationship away, several things came crashing down.

First, self-doubt crept in. After all, he didn’t want a tomboy for a wife; he wanted a wife with a gentler temperament. Maybe Masumi never thought of herself as a tomboy, however, so his words came as a shock to the her. Second, she thought their relationship meant more than it did; the man clearly did not. In the end, who was right? Considering how easy it was for the man to step away from the whole affair, it’s hard not to think the man was right. As they say, the person who can step away So ultimately, Masumi lost her sense of self: “There’s no point in being here anymore. If [the Mizukagami] wants to be me so much, it can go ahead.” Her mindset is reflected by the state of the hand mirror. It has gotten dull and grey since their last meeting. It no longer shines the way her personality used to.

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But why is it significant who polishes the mirror? Again, Masumi gave herself to the man and thus allowed herself to be vulnerable to him. By refusing to polish her own hand mirror, she’s basically saying, “I want you to show me who I really am.” Whenever they had their little rendezvous in the mountains, the man would polish her mirror, and in doing so, her self of sense seemed to clarify along with it. Like how most lovers say to each other, “You complete me,” the polishing of the hand mirror was his way of “completing” her. Therefore, it isn’t hard to imagine that when the relationship ultimately fell apart, the man ended up leaving holes in both Masumi’s heart and her psyche.

In most scenarios, the jilted lover eventually picks up the pieces. He or she re-evaluates the failed relationship, and finally comes to the conclusion that his or her sense of self doesn’t depend on the other person after all. Masumi, however, refuses to polish her own hand mirror nor does she allow anyone else to do it for her. She is thus clinging to the hope that the man would eventually return and complete her. With each passing day, however, the hand mirror gets duller and greyer. In essence, her sense of self is also getting duller and greyer. Essentially, Masumi is rejecting herself. It is no surprise, therefore, that the Mizukagami could thus replace her one day.

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At best, the Mizukagami can only become a simulacrum, i.e. it will never have a soul even if it replaces the original; it will never be human no matter how human-like it may look from a distance. Having said that, Masumi’s refusal to complete herself is an act of rejecting her own soul. Because she’s been acting soullessly, i.e. listless and despondent, it isn’t difficult for the Mizukagami to imitate her every move and action. I’d imagine that the Mizukagami is unable to emote even as a simulacrum. After all, emotions are what make us seem alive and human as opposed to being just a robot. As a result, Masumi inadvertently helps the Mushi out by stumbling about with nary a look on her face but a defeated one.

According to Ginko, it is easy to dispel the Mizukagami: when it materializes, you just have to show the Mizukagami its own reflection in a mirror. You’ll notice that the solution to all of these Mushi-related troubles always sound easy on paper. In practice, however, this is hardly the case. After all, these stories are all allegories for the personal problems that we face in life. Yes, all Masumi would have to do is to polish her own hand mirror, and hold it up to the Mizukagami when it comes to replace her. But again, in order for her to do so, she would need to finally let go of her past relationship. She would need to reject the man the same way he had rejected her. You can see why the solution to her problems is not as simple as it seems.

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In the end, Masumi ends up saving herself even without the use of the hand mirror. Ginko speculates that her eyes had worked as a mirror, thus allowing the Mizukagami to see its own reflection in them. Considering everything we’ve just talked about, the eyes are significant in other ways. Like the hand mirror, Masumi’s eyes also got dull over time after her rejection. After all, has she not mourned her lost relationship and thus cried over it? In one particular scene, Masumi finally goes about polishing her hand mirror, but she nevertheless cries as she is doing so. Even though we’ve been talking about how important it is for the girl to polish the hand mirror, her tears end up clouding another mirror: her own eyes. As a result, it almost seems as though her tears allows the Mizukagami to materialize.

More importantly, however, consider how our eyes often represent the window to our soul in many different cultures. Because Masumi eyes has gotten dull, it is hard to see her soul in them. It is as the saying goes, “There is no life in those eyes.” Still, when push comes to shove, Masumi shouts, “Stop pretending to be me!” More importantly, she does so with conviction. You could even say she does so with soul. Like with the hand mirror, the girl’s eyes stops being cloudy. Also like with the hand mirror, Masumi takes charge of her own life. No one is going to polish the hand mirror for her, and similarly, only she can stop herself from crying. When the Mizukagami gazes into the girl’s eyes, it becomes clear to the Mushi that one of them is a real, flesh-and-blood girl, and the other will forever be nothing more than lonely simulacrum.

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Miscellaneous Notes & Observations
• Have you ever heard of the term “trickle truth?” It’s where a person only reveals the truth little-by-little as opposed to all at once. At first, the man told Masumi he didn’t want to settle down. When Masumi insisted on waiting for him, however, the man was forced to admit that he never really saw her as someone he would ever marry. I thus have to wonder if he even left because business had been difficult. It’s likely that he simply got tired of her. But anyway, since this episode has such an emphasis on water, I couldn’t resist thinking of the term.

• It isn’t important whether or not Masumi is really a tomboy. What’s important is that Masumi believes in herself regardless of the man’s affections for her. Unfortunately, she doesn’t believe in herself. She even admits she wants to disappear. The man’s rejection of her made the girl lose confidence in herself when she should’ve ultimately come to the two conclusions. First, they just weren’t compatible in the long run, and secondly, there’s nothing wrong with her just because the man can’t love her.

• In a way, Masumi and the Mizukagami might just reflect each other. Ginko has this to say about Mushi:

“Mushi may lack souls, but many of them nevertheless try to crawl out of the darkness in search of the light. That’s how lonely that world is.

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If you really want to return to a world that feels less lonely, you must protect yourself.”

Masumi instantly takes an attraction to Ginko when she recovers, and I can’t help but think she’s just a poor girl stuck in the mountains with her parents. Sure, the ending is supposed to be light-hearted, especially when you consider the events that had preceded it. But even so, I feel as though the girl simply wants to escape her loneliness much like the Mizukagami.


One Reply to “Mushishi Zoku Shou Ep. 5: Regaining a sense of self”

  1. Interesting to read your figurative take on the hand mirror, since I took it more literally as a memento of her failed relationship with the man. My focus through this episode was fixed on interpreting the mizukagami as depression, and how it could lead to her suicide.

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