Neko-san's Guide to the Characters of Samurai Champloo
Episode 22--Cosmic Collisions

(all text written by and property of Neko-san.
Any note you see in italics--like this one--is by me, Kyuketsuki/Paula, the proprietor of this site.)

Episode 22--Cosmic Collisions
This is my annotated character list for episode 22. People are listed in order of appearance, with names (where given), first appearance, and significant details. Main characters are referred to as J, M, and F. I note their first appearance in the episode, but don't bother to gloss them. Unnamed flunkies are grouped together at the bottom.

Narrator--Could be Shige (q.v.), although the metallic edge is not so strong and the narration is spoken, not sung. Gives a lecture at the beginning of the episode on pre-modern astronomical (and astrological) notions, over footage of the giant asteroid approaching Earth. The scene then shifts to an Edo-vintage astrolabe, as he talks about the beginning of systematic astronomy in Japan. Reappears in the middle of the episode, talking about the theory that life was originally brought to earth on meteors, and the undeniable fact that there might be alien lifeforms on meteorites. As Kyu notes in her episode summary, this may be another zombie movie reference.
Giant Asteroid--The first thing seen in the episode, as the Narrator (see above) begins his lecture. [As an amateur student of exobiology (Go SETI!), I have to add a caveat: I firmly believe that we are not the only lifeforms in the universe, but a lifeform recognizable as such to us would require an atmosphere and liquid water—and therefore a space body much larger and warmer than an asteroid.] The asteroid is shown approaching Earth several more times without narration, and then in the final scene becomes a meteorite-—by actually striking the planet’s surface.
Shige—Bug-eyed, fur-coat wearing, biwa-wielding rabble rouser, Heike pretender, and chief zombie. He may be based on a famous video game designer, Shigesato Itoi, who was involved in a fruitless search for the lost gold of the Tokugawa. (See the Anachronisms Guide for this episode for more info.) His voice has a distinctive metallic twang and greatly resembles the kabuki-style voice-over from the openings of episodes #8 and 15, particularly when he’s reciting poetry. First appears grinning maniacally in brief, spooky shot during the opening narration. Next appearance is in the quarry, playing his biwa and reciting “The Fall of Kurikara” from the Heike Monogatari ("Tale of the Heike"--a classic work of literature about the demise of the clan he claims descent from. See the episode summary for relevant info and links.) He refers to the trio as “guests” in his “domain”, and rambles about the astronomical symbolism of the biwa—including its ability to call stars down out of the sky. [The guy seriously sounds like a mental patient.] Offended when the trio is unimpressed, he rambles about not standing on formality. Eventually he gets around to the actual exposition and says that he’s a descendent of the Heike, searching for his clan’s lost treasure (hence the huge excavation); he pulls out a family tree that he claims proves his ancestry, and thus his claim to the treasure. When held to a heat source, it also functions as a map revealing the treasure’s location. The trip are about ready to leave when he suddenly says their arrival, when the crew is so close to actually uncovering the treasure, is fate, and he will give them 10% of the swag for their help. Both the guys seem tempted but F wants to press on for Nagasaki; Shige reminds her that the trip requires food and money, and she agrees, reluctantly. The sky darkens as Shige says to her retreating back, “Just take your time here,”—since there’s no way out. We see Shige ordering gunpowder bombs to blast through a rock, and holding a pair of L-shaped divining rods as he searches for the treasure. (See the Anachronisms Guide for info about the rods.), and asking Fuu, “Isn’t this the perfect place to forget the transience of the world?” He evades her questions aboiut his identity. Penta interrupts to say that more workers are needed. Shige says that they will have to call for help, and leaves. F finds him again in the midst of an old battlefield (you can see discarded spears and dozens upon dozens of memorial posts)—he’s raising the dead soldiers, his eyes even blanker and creepier than usual. He threatens her with death back at the excavation site, saying that she knows too much, and must become one of them. M shows up to defend her, hacking and slashing at the zombie hordes. [Not your smartest move, dearie. But I don’t suppose you’ve had much experience with fighting the undead…] As the zombies mob him and chew on his flesh, Shige tells M not to worry because he won’t stay buried for long. M doesn’t take this news well, and whacks at Shige’s neck—but it stays attached by a little bit of skin, and he shoves his head back in place with a horrible squelch. He backs F into a corner, and she tries to tell him that it’s five hundred years later than he thinks, but Shige’s not buying. Just then, the cavalry (J) arrives with a vital bit of information: as suspected, the lineage tree was bogus. Shige’s line is no more Heike than Momo-san is a capybara. [Not surprising that it’s Jin who figures this out, since his samurai education likely included a lot of genealogy.] Shige seems genuinely surprised by this, his pupils dilate to something approaching normal size, and he whimpers that they can’t have done all that work in vain… His zombie hordes seem even less pleased. He tries frantically to placate them by saying that bloodlines shouldn’t matter now that they have no blood, but they don’t seem to find that an acceptable answer. The mob moves in threateningly, and Shige strikes a dramatic chord on his biwa, shouts “It was nothing!”, and then the meteor smashes down right on the quarry. (Remember he said that the biwa could call down the stars…?) There’s a tiny clip after the credits, showing Shige’s grave, and them him rising out of it, biwa in hand. (He is mad devoted to the thing!)

[A note: Shige is himself a zombie, but it’s not clear what kind of nasty juju he’s using to turn others that way. It’s also not entirely clear what period he dates from, whether it’s the real Heike era, or some later time. He seems as surprised as anyone else that he’s not a Taira and he’s five hundred years out of sync. My pet theory is that he was a Karakura-period minstrel/con-man who originally did fake the map and family tree and conned the workers, but as time passed told the same lie so many times that he actually came to believe it himself.]

Matsutake mushrooms—Just listing them here to say, there’s already one pun on “mushroom” in the episode, perhaps the…hallucinogenic goings-on are a reference to PCP?]
“Sabini” and “Upa”(passim)—-Two named zombies—as Kyu notes in her episode summary, this is a nod to Tom Savini and Tobe Hooper, who are famous in the horror movie biz. Upa’s got a saw strapped to his back and glasses, Sabini’s got a cat that sits on his shoulders, both of which are deeper references—once again, see the episode summary for more info. They first appear in the tunnel the trio crashes into [A note on the fall—it’s microcosmic that F drags M down with her when she falls, and he in turn grabs J, since F’s the Prime Mover of the trio and J’s the most externally driven.] First appearance is in the tunnel, where F mistakes them for J and M (remarking on how cold their skin is). There’s a brief moment where it looks like they’re going to eat her, and then her scream scares them. J and M show up from behind her, drawing their swords, and M slashes Upa’s arm off. The wound does not bleed, nor is he in any visible pain. They run off down the tunnel. We see them again in the quarry, loading stones onto a cart. (Sabini says they thought the trio were ghosts—irony, anyone?) M tosses Upa his severed arm, which he calmly sticks right back in place. When Shige pulls out the pedigree, Upa holds up a candle to reveal the hidden map. After the deal is struck, M asks Upa, whose arm is being bound firmly in place by Sabini, for food, and he replies that all they have is wasabi. [M makes the most incredible face after cramming a couple of stalks down.] Upa tells F that they are close to the treasure, after she complains about the work, and she notices that his arm is reattached and there’s a line of scar tissue along the cut. Just after, Upa is apparently killed in a rockslide, but he shows up again talking to Sabini (and casually chewing wasabi— my mouth burns just watching them) about how "that Yoritomo" will be deposed and Genji’s rule will end after they find what they’ve spent five years looking for. J and F rightly call them out on this, since the events described occurred five hundred years before, but the two take no notice. [500 years pre-Champloo, that is. 800 from our twenty-first century standpoint.] F runs into them again as she tries to escape the graveyard, mistaking them for living men, and Upa’s arm drops off in her hand. They’re presumably part of the zombie horde at the end, and also presumably destroyed in the meteor impact.
Penta--A psychic zombie. Seen once dowsing for the treasure, and then determining the new direction for excavation. Appears once again to inform Shige that they will need more workers to break through the bedrock..
Heike zombies—-Lotsandlotsandlots of them. They appear to be the revenant corpses of Heike warriors, based on the fact that they still think it’s the Kamakura period, but it’s possible that some poor saps from later periods who came to the valley by accident—just like the trio. [This theory is backed up by noting that a few have blue prison tattoos like M's.] They are kept operational (you can’t call it alive) by the powerful cleansing properties of the wasabi. The zombies appear pervasively, doing hard labor in the excavation from the tunnel scene on. The trio mostly interact with Sabini and Upa, and not with the unnamed zombies. We see their full (huge!) number when they surround poor F. Judging by the way they swarm and gnaw Mugen, they have at least some interest in consuming human flesh. The zombies turn on Shige when he is revealed as an imposter, but he gets his revenge by apparently calling down the meteor on their heads.
Commentary[--I couldn’t not comment on the mushroom cloud. In a country that experienced two nuclear detonations, that is such a loaded and volatile symbol, even when used under the mantle of satire as it is here. This episode is to me a criticism of the insular tendencies of the Japanese nation, which has gone through several periods of extreme isolation and nationalism—one of those the Tokugawa period in which the series takes place, and another the military junta that controlled the country before and during the Second World War. These tendencies exist below the national level, too: one of the reasons given for the downfall of the Heike clan was that while in power they had grown too preoccupied with court life and could no longer function as real-world warriors. The zombies carry the traditional virtues of devotion and hard work to the point of becoming nothing more than mindless drones, so isolated from the rest of the world that 500 years pass by without them noticing. They are slaves to Shige’s autocratic, obsessive whims—but he has deluded even himself, and believes in the lies he tells as firmly as his underlings. In the end, his inability to accept necessary change brings ruination to all those who labored for him, when he calls down the meteor rather than accept his own downfall. I think…I think that Watanabe is making a rare acknowledgement here that Japan’s repressive wartime government in some degree brought the Bomb down upon itself, and the people of Japan were, however unwittingly, complicit in its crimes by following its dictates. Nothing justifies that scale of destruction (The behavior of the Americans in the next episode makes it clear that while Watanabe believes that Japan must take responsibility for its war atrocities, the other side is by no means off the hook.) but Japanese cannot see themselves as victims only.]

--Go back to Character Guide main page.
--Go on to Neko-san's Guide to the Characters of Samurai Champloo--Episode 23.