Gardener: “We may not be right in the head. For 300 years, our family has loved a woman who is like a plant.”
I find this week’s episode to be one of Mushishi‘s more straightforward ones. As you can see from the quote above, the story outright tells us that Saho has essentially become plant-like. We know that by ingesting the “foam-like mushi called the Kodama,” Saho is able to stay young and beautiful. Unfortunately, the side effects include blindness and deafness. You’ll notice, however, that sight and hearing are not exactly qualities that a plant possesses. As a result, in order for Saho’s beauty to “bloom” every so often like the cherry blossom tree that her fate is linked to, she has had to trade in her humanity. Not by her choice, I suspect, but I’ll get to what I mean by this later. In any case, although the girl is plant-like, the crucial difference here is that she’s not actually a plant herself.
The obvious message is that what eight generations of gardeners have done to Saho is far from natural. As a result, although her head can stay young and beautiful, her body cannot. In order to delay the inevitability of death, the garderner and his ancestors have continued to graft Saho’s head onto a new body whenever her current one grows frail and weak. I suspect that whenever Saho gets a new body, she can subsist without the tree foam for at least a short while. This thus allows the cherry blossom tree to bloom, and as a result, Saho’s health seemingly correlates with the health of the tree. As her body grows weaker and weaker over time, however, she needs to rely upon the Kodama again to keep herself not only alive, but free from suffering. This in turn leaves the cherry blossom tree withered and barren.
At the end of the episode, when time literally runs out on Saho’s current body, we see the cherry blossom tree bloom in the dead of the night. As the gardener turns to look at Saho, we also see Kodama leaking from her neck. Without the mushi to sustain her, the girl instantly ages before our very eyes. Since she has existed for centuries, it’s safe to assume her body has aged centuries in a blink of an eye as well. After some unspecified amount of time has passed, we see two travelers pausing on their journey to take in the beauty of the very same cherry blossom tree. Without Saho leeching away the tree’s Kodama, the tree is now free to bloom naturally with the seasons. Having said all of this, there’s one particular thing about the story that I’m still mulling over. Remember this scene?
With her outstretched arms and a distressed look on her face, Saho begs at an unseen person to stop, but stop what? Since she had just muttered Mansaku’s name just seconds earlier, I have to assume she’s begging Mansaku to stop. Even so, what is it that she want him to stop? At the moment, I have the following theory. As much as the gardener wants Saho to continue living on forever much like his ancestors did, I highly doubt this is what the girl would have wanted for herself. I highly doubt she would’ve wanted to live forever like a plant, i.e. blind and deaf. Plus, how horrific must it be to lose your body and have to acclimate yourself to a new one? And just as you even begin to get used to your new body, it suddenly grows weak, and as a result, you’ll now have to repeat that ghoulish process all over again. More importantly, however, she can never die.
Saho has lived through eight generations of the gardener’s family. Think of it this way. For most of us, immortality sounds like a neat idea at first, but when we really think about what it entails, we realize that we’ll have to suffer through the deaths of our loved ones. Now, let’s bring it back to the anime. Saho has had to experience such tragedies for several generations. Yes, she has become blind and deaf as a result of ingesting the Kodama, but are those the only reasons she seems plant-like? Or has she become catatonic and emotionally closed off as a result of her immortality? Remember, the tree foam deadens your senses. As a result, perhaps Saho now needs to the tree foam to cope with the emotional pain of living through generations of loved ones constantly inevitably passing away.
I think back to the gardener’s words when Ginko tells him to ditch the bottle of collected tree foam: “But there are those who have need of it. There are those who do not care if they can no longer see or hear, as long as they can escape the suffering.” I thus speculate that although Saho may not have wanted her immortality, she may have no choice but to depend upon the Kodama to prevent herself from feeling anything. Still, the key speculation here is that Saho likely never wanted this fate to begin with. After all, why would anyone want to live such a life? Whenever we see Saho look up to the sky with her outstretched arms, I think two things. First, it’s evident she’s begging for her release; I think she has always wanted to die, but never could. Second, she’s begging Mansaku to stop, and I think it’s because he started this whole mess.
According to the gardener, Saho’s periodic illness did not begin until after Mansaku, the man responsible for discovering the girl in the first place, had died. Naturally, this would lead us to believe that the horrific grafting process did not begin until the generation succeeding Mansaku. Nevertheless, as I’ve already stated, we see the girl reach out to the heavens and cry out, “Don’t!” shortly after she had just choked out Mansaku’s name. Since I don’t think she ever wanted this twisted fate for herself, and I must speculate that everything must have started with Mansaku. What about the gardener’s story? Maybe he’s wrong. Or maybe it’s just one of his many lies throughout this week’s episode. You even have to wonder if they desired to keep her a child as long as they could. After all, she started growing weak as a child.
“Wordlessly, they endure the elements. Wordlessly, they bloom. Wordlessly, they corrupt.”
Do flowers corrupt? I wouldn’t think so. Nevertheless, the title of this episode is “Floral Delusion.” Therefore, there must be something about flowers that can corrupt. As we hear these words, the camera pans across the pink cherry blossoms until the branches become entangling roots. In Japan, cherry blossoms typically symbolize the transience of life. At the same time, however, they can represent beauty as well. When you combine these two qualities together, it may lead to man’s foolish need to possess beauty. Because beauty is so transient, it becomes a mark of pride to possess beauty as long as possible. As we can see from this very episode, this desperation leads to generations and generations of murder. Not only that, we see how this sin is deeply rooted in the family legacy.
Anyway, I like how a scene early in the episode takes on a whole new meaning upon a second viewing.
Girl: “I heard you make medicine. My mother is ill.”
Gardener: “I’m sorry to hear that. Are you in good health?”
I thought this was an odd question to ask at first, but upon rewatching the episode, the gardener’s words take on a whole new meaning. When the girl testifies that she’s always in good health, the guy then smiles knowingly, and says, “That’s good to hear.” Finally, he invites her to stay the night.