Episode 5–“Artistic Anarchy”

[Important note: This is a complete summary of the episode containing major spoilers. Please be sure you want to know this info before you read; spoilers are not blocked or hidden in any way so this is your only warning. If you aren't 100% sure you want to know who lives, who dies, who gets hurt, who walks away and who's responsible, please pack your katana and walk right now. My feelings will not be hurt. Thank you.]

--in 1885, says a voiceover, an artist who was much impressed by the Ukiyo-e art he saw in Paris moved to the French province of Arles. He dreamed of living there surrounded by artists, but found only one. That one was Gauguin; the one who had fallen in love with Japanese art was Vincent Van Gogh, and he continued to paint sunflowers.

[Footnote: Check out this Wiki article on Hiroshige to see some direct swipes of Japanese art by Van Gogh.]

But now more than a hundred years have passed, continues our narrator: he’s undercover detective Sakami ("The Saw") Manzou. [Note: 200 years would be closer; according to Watanabe himself plus our best research, the series setting is about c. 1650-1690. Please see the Anachronisms listing for this episode for details.] He’s here to investigate a series of disappearances of young women from this town. All of them had one thing in common: they had been amateur models for Ukiyo-e artists.

We see Fuu arguing with a ferryman; none of the three can afford the fare. Swim then, he shrugs.

Fuu meets artist Hishikawa Moronobu in a restaurant, a most charming fellow. [Historic Note 1: Moronobu lived from 1618-1694, so he should look older than he does here. He was, however, really one of the stars of the Ukiyo-e school.] He treats her and her hungry sidekicks to a meal. Having eaten, the guys head off to find ways to raise the ferry fare while Fuu gets a tour of Moronobu’s print gallery. She really likes his work, especially one featuring sunflowers. =) He confesses his dream of becoming famous in Europe; no one takes his art seriously here. He says he’ll pay Fuu to pose for him, and she agrees, flattered.

(Small joke: as he frames Fuu's glancing-back pose with his fingers and imagines the painting he'll do of her, he says "I'll call it 'Backwards Beauty.'" The real Moronobu actually did do a painting called "Mikaeri Bijin" which translates as "Beauty looking back over her shoulder" or "Looking-back beauty". However, the figure is fully clothed and bears no resemblance to Fuu, not does it have sunflowers. Still a good bit of art-history trivia.=)

Mugen raises the money his usual way, by kicking it out of a gang of idlers. These particular idlers are yakuza punks employed by the gallery/bookstore owners; they run home to complain. Mugen, having their money, forgets all about the ferry and buys lunch, remembering only after he’s eaten every bit of his profits what he was supposed to be doing. [He really is Instant Gratification Boy.] With a sigh, he trots off to find the same yakuza punks and harass them for more money, stopping in his tracks when he sees Fuu with Moronobu outside his studio. You’re playing around with this guy?, he demands (our sub says “skirt chaser” so I guess Mugen has heard something of Moronobu’s reputation). Fuu proudly says that’s not it at all, she’s been hired to pose. Mugen realizes he’s lost the trail of the guy he was chasing and sprints off. [Oo, jealous much?]

Jin is watching foreign ships sail along the skyline. An old fellow with gold teeth, sitting playing shougi (Japanese chess, basically) with himself, asks if that’s so unusual. Jin remarks that he’d thought European ships were only permitted to anchor in Nagasaki. [Historic Note 2: he’s right; in 1638 the Tokugawa shogunate had banned contact with all countries except Holland and China; such contact was allowed only via the port of Dejima, in Nagasaki. The ban lasted two centuries, until 1854.] Oh, we’ve bribed the officials, says the old fellow (his name is never given in the episode, but it's Roukishi); European goods may be prohibited, but they sell for a very good price. We can always claim we salvaged them from a shipwreck if we’re caught.

Jin studies the shougi board and suggests a move. Roukishi invites him to play a match, and wagers a purse of coins. Jin says he can’t even pay the ferry fee, much less bet, and the fellow says he can gamble with his life; if he loses, Roukishi will take him into custody.(--yes, literally own him.)
“I can’t believe you’re sane,” says Jin, but he allows himself a little smile; he sees how he can earn his ferry passage. He accepts the match.

The punks tell their boss--Madame Sawa, the formidable lady owner of the bookstore/gallery--that they were robbed. She scornfully says that’s shameful for a yakuza and they’d better settle with that guy if they see him again. She then tosses them another pouch of money to replace what they lost; clearly the bookstore business is quite profitable...

Jin and Roukishi play shougi. You’re good, he tells Jin; where did you learn? At the dojo, Jin replies. Shougi is like swordfighting; the match is decided by how many moves you plan ahead of your opponent. That’s what my master taught me.
He must have been very skilled too, says Roukishi.
Yes, says Jin; I never beat him at shougi.
Were you able to beat him with the sword?

--Absolutely no response to this, not the least flicker of expression to show he even heard.

The old fellow tries to close the game (and welch on his bet) by upsetting the board; both he and Jin try to play this to their advantage, Jin by remembering where the fallen pieces had been, and Roukishi by disagreeing with his memory.

We see Fuu posing for Moronobu; he persuades her to take her top down, which she reluctantly does. No sooner has he finished the painting than the yakuza punks break in and grab Fuu. She’s horrified to learn that he expected this; he’s part of their racket. He looks distressed but does nothing to stop them as they spirit her off to a warehouse and cram her into a barrel.

(Sakami Manzou was spying on this for awhile, but more as a peeping tom than a cop, it seems. He’s not there when Fuu is taken.)

His painting of her, an elegant nude framed by sunflowers (he must’ve noticed she liked that one) draws the attention of a gallery customer. Good choice, says the proprietress...

Guilt-stricken, Moronobu heads for the warehouse (eluding the amorous clutches of Sawa-sama, who says he really should be nicer to her seeing how she’s made it possible for him to live in such style). He finds Fuu, releases her from her barrel, and confesses: he knows what his models are in for. It’s the only way an artist can make a living, he protests weakly. That’s just an excuse, she says, tearful and deeply hurt at his betrayal of her trust. --Uh-oh, in walk Sawa-sama and the yakuza punks...

By now it’s night, and Mugen is not comfortable that there’s still no sign of Fuu. He goes off to Moronobu’s place, finds it deserted and dark, and is poking around for clues (and thumbing through his porn collection) when the punks dump the battered artist at his front door. If you weren’t the mistress’ pet we really would have done you, they warn. As soon as they go Mugen corners Moronobu and holds up one of his pencil sketches of Fuu. OK, where is she? You’ve got to save her, wails the artist, or she’ll be sold. Sold?!

On the way to the warehouse Moronobu spills the beans: the bookstore/gallery is the front for a white slavery racket. Once a girl has posed, she’s held captive and her portrait is posted; customers browse the walls like a catalogue, pick the girl they want, and she’s packed up and rowed out to the European ships. The old gold-toothed fellow and the bookstore mistress are yakuza, husband and wife, partners in the porn and slavery trade.

But when they get there, the warehouse is empty except for one barrel, and Manzou is in that, dressed only in a sumo loincloth.[“What a big baby,” Mugen comments.]

Mugen takes off at top gallop and catches the boat with Fuu’s barrel in it, jumps off a bridge and kicks the daylights out of the yakuza punks a third time; one grabs her and escapes. Mugen chases him down and with single-minded determination kicks his way through walls and doors to reach the final punk. Manzou scoops up Fuu and declares that he’s solved the case, matching Fuu to her portrait from the gallery. The jig’s up for the yakuza. Teyandee!

But Roukishi and Jin are calmly finishing their game oblivious to the big cop’s bellowing. Jin wins; the old yakuza starts to laugh and declares that he deserves it. As Manzou and the cops march him away (and his wife calls after him in distress), he tosses Jin the coin purse he wagered. “So,” sighs Fuu, “it was Jin, who looked as if he wasn’t doing anything, who was the only one to get paid.”

Moronobu calls to her from a boat passing under the bridge; he’s about to smuggle himself on a European ship and seek his fortune. He’s sorry he tricked her, and shows off the sunflower painting he did of her, calling her his #1 fan. Oh, and would she please not tell that Sawa woman where he’s gone? He’ll never forget her... the boat glides off.

Should we let him get away? asks Mugen. Yes, that’s OK, says Fuu happily. she likes the painting, and proudly points out that he gave her very large breasts. He did?--the guys puzzle.

And we end with a footnote about how all the art Moronobu had with him was confiscated except the sunflower portrait, which is alleged to have gotten into the hands of Vincent Van Gogh...

Footnote, July 2007:--We have looked and looked, and we can't find any evidence whatever for any sort of organized Japanese-European sex slave trade existing at this time, whether via the yakuza or other means. Zantetsuken writes: "European/Japan sex slave trade: Can find nothing. Nada. Any case of it would probably be an isolated incident. There is some general record of Asian women (usually Thai or Chinese) being taken to the Caribbean colonies in the 1880s/90s, but it appears extremely rare--African and Indian girls were much easier to control." So unless someone comes up with a source beyond our grasp, we conclude that this is something--oddly enough--completely invented for the series.

Samurai Champloo characters, visuals and materials (c) 2004 manglobe.
Original story synopsis written and (c) 2004 by Paula O'Keefe.

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