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“The Cherry Tree in Whose Shade the Daybreak Snake Hides”

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This highly acclaimed series was based on an award-winning manga series (2000+) by Yuki Urushibara, which was adapted to anime in 26 episodes by Artland in 2005. The episodic plot concerns the experiences of Ginko, a Mushi-shi (roughly, “bug-master”), who travels through rural Japan, diagnosing a variety of social and medical problems in terms of mushi, elemental spirits that often function as parasites on humans. The stories are all stand-alone plots, often adapting local or international legend types.

Episode 16, titled “The Sunrise Serpent” (Akatsuki no hebi), is a moving adaptation of “The Bosom Serpent,” a widespread legend dating to ancient times in which a human’s mysterious illness is found to be the result of a snake (frog, salamander, squid, etc.) that has slipped inside the body and grown there. Gillian Bennett has done a detailed study of such legends in Anglo-American tradition (see her Bodies [Mississippi, 2005],pp. 3-59). In this version, the Sunrise Serpent, an incorporeal mushi that lurks in shadows, has invaded the female protagonist as she slept in the shade of a cherry tree outside her home. The mushi lives by consuming her memories, so she finds herself increasingly forgetful and disoriented. As with many of the episodes, Ginko diagnoses the problem but cannot cure it, and the episode has a moving, bittersweet ending in which the woman learns to coexist with a world that she cannot change.

Artland did not release production art from this series, so original drawings from it quite rare. I’ve been fortunate in obtaining a group of artboards, i.e., the sheets on which the watercolor backgrounds were planned out. This one is a preparatory sketch for an eerie moment in this episode in which the blooming cherry tree (already a symbol of the transient nature of life) is seen through an open door of the family’s house. The series received several awards in the 2006 Tokyo Anime Fair, including for best Art Direction.

For more on how this series adapts Japanese folk legends and myths, see Yoshiko Okuyama, Japanese Mythology in Film: A Semiotic Approach to Reading Japanese Film and Anime (Lexington Books, 2015).

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