Episode 17–“Lullabies of the Lost (verse 2)"

[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.]

The Matsumae-Han close in on Mugen, who launches himself to his feet and kicks serious butt, then stands off the remaining half-dozen or so at swordpoint in the river and asks them why they’re so sure he’s the guy they’re after. The one they want, they tell him, is a criminal named Okuru who’s escaped from Ooku-matsuma; he wears unusual clothing and is supposed to be living here in the mountains. I’m looking for him too, retorts Mugen; what did he do? They’re taken aback, decide they’ve got the wrong man, and scatter; but Mugen wants answers, collars one cop as he flees and lays his sword to the guy’s throat. No apology? --he grins evilly…

Okuru tells Fuu she can’t come with him; he’s a fugitive, wanted for killing a government official, and she wouldn’t be safe in his company. The guys I was with before look much worse than you, she protests. If you have friends you should go with them, he says. People you travel with become like family, brothers and sisters. She considers: is he always going to travel alone? I have my wife and child close beside me, Okuru tells her; you should go to sleep now. He smiles but his eyes are serious. Fuu sees he can’t be persuaded.

The guy Mugen grabbed is telling what he knows of Okuru. Maybe it was dementia from the epidemic, he says, but I heard he killed everyone in the village, even his own wife and child, and an official who came to help the villagers. Dementia?--wonders Mugen, thoughtfully. He didn’t seem that way to me. He makes up his mind, releases the man and kicks him sprawling. I’ll catch that man, he says, make sure those people stay out of my way.

Fuu’s asleep when Okuru, packed to travel, quietly leaves the camp. Momo-san flies to his shoulder. I have no more seeds, he tells the squirrel, but it wants to stay with him anyway.

Jin is drying off his sword when he sees someone hurry along the path; he picks up Fuu’s sandal and leaves, following the stranger. It’s the Matsumae-Han soldier that Mugen just interrogated. He reaches their camp and Jin hides himself nearby to eavesdrop. The man tells his comrades that the guy they caught earlier couldn’t have been Okuru; he was too young and said he was from Ryuu-kyu. It’s a crime to impede us, says their captain, Tobata--kill him if you see him again. (Jin doesn’t miss a word of this.)—A scout runs up: Tobata-sama?, he says, there are signs of a fire and arrow shavings by the river. He’s here, says Tobata. Reinforcements are coming from Matsumae, this is our chance to get his head. Jin’s heard enough and takes his leave.

Mugen, walking in the forest, hears the sound of a stringed instrument, a sad, ancient-sounding tune. He stops and listens, sees the musician is Okuru, sitting in a tree. [He’s playing the tonkori, a traditional Ainu instrument related to the zither.] We see Okuru’s memories as he plays: he’s walking in a snowstorm, comes over the hill and sees his village below, in flames. He rushes down the hill. A woman carrying a baby stumbles into the street and collapses. Okuru kneels at her side, and as tears run down his face the light very visibly goes out of his eyes. We see a field of memorial posts he must have raised for the victims…we return to him playing.

Do you want those people to find you? Mugen calls up to him. That melody—it sounds like one I heard when I was a kid. Where are you from? –Okuru asks. Ryuu-kyu, way down south, Mugen tells him. I am from the Far North, the archer says. It’s funny, says Mugen, that we’re listening to the same thing so far apart. You’re Okuru, aren’t you? [The change in his voice is remarkable: the usual abrasive defiance is just gone: we’ve never heard this thoughtful and respectful tone from him before. Not to mention that the word he’s using for “you” is not his usual omae, which carries no level of respect whatever, but the rather more polite anata.] People called Matsumae-Han, or something, were out there just now; they gave me a lot of trouble, thinking I was you. The archer looks at him warily: did they give you money? --he asks. I just want to fight you, Mugen says, but he’s looking up evenly and seriously at Okuru. I heard you went crazy from the epidemic, he says, it doesn’t look that way to me. They said you killed your own wife and child. (He says this not as accusation but as someone who wants Okuru to know what’s being said about him. Okuru looks angry, but not at Mugen.)

Fuu wakes in the night and realizes both Okuru and Momo-san are gone. She spots a movement on the cliff above the river, screams, and Jin comes running up. Jin!—she startles. What happened, he asks. She points up—I saw something, a tengu or an ogre, it had a sword—then she really looks at him, and they both ask each other, why are you here? It’s none of your business, sniffs Fuu. Did you regret what you did and come back here? (Seeing him, having not seen Mugen, and remembering that clash of swords, she’s evidently assuming the worst.) I thought you drowned, he says, producing her sandal. Were you keeping that for a souvenir?—she asks coldly. Jin quietly replies, I thought I would put it with your body. This stops her. Arigato, she says, reaching for her shoe, and sees a long cut on his arm. Were you hurt by him?—she asks. It’s just a scratch, Jin says, it happened when I jumped into the waterfall. You what?—lucky you’re all right, she says…

--then at the same time they both ask the same question: “Where is he?” Fuu stares at him. I don’t know, she says, realizing Jin can’t have killed Mugen. I see, replies Jin, realizing in turn that Mugen didn’t find Fuu, and isn’t here. Fuu is now all sympathy and concern, gathering the same medicinal herbs that Okuru collected for her, while Jin looks around the camp: indeed, someone was here (for one thing, there's a blanket, which none of the trio owns) but it wasn't Mugen, of whom there's no trace. He’s very worried: he knows Mugen had a run-in with armed men who are now authorized to kill him, and is out there somewhere, in more danger than he knows.

Okuru is telling Mugen his story. It was a person from Matsumae-Han that caused the epidemic. While I was gone, he says, the village became a pile of corpses. That’s how my village was destroyed, and I don’t care if you believe it or not. But Mugen has noticed the strange flat darkness of his eyes. I’ve seen those eyes before, he says, drawing his sword. They’re like the eyes of a head that’s been cut off, slightly wet and not knowing what they see. Hey—he asks Okuru—are you still alive?

Something catches Jin’s eye—he draws his katana as Yukimaru leaps down from the cliff. They instantly square off and clash. Jin, what’s this?—cries Fuu. Yuki asks, did you think you’d deceived me? Do you know why there are so many valleys in this mountain? Death and rebirth: everyone comes here seeking these things. Are you trying to be reborn? -- Jin has said nothing but Yuki’s name, and that as if he wished he needn’t. Until the day I kill you with my hand, declares Yuki, you’re not really dead.

Okuru stands. You’re still young, he tells Mugen. I’m an old man, nearly forty. I’ve lived too long, it may be time to stop running away. He leaps into the next tree, fires two shots at Mugen, who hurls himself clear, and is away. What a skilled old man, says Mugen in genuine admiration, and gives chase.

Jin and Yukimaru fighting—Jin still holding him off. Okuru fires crossbow bolts at Mugen, who slices and blocks them with his sword.

Jin stands and faces Yukimaru. Are you really going to do this?—he asks. You betrayed me and then you left me behind, says Yuki bitterly, I will not let you go.

Mugen reaches the top of the ridge and Okuru draws his sword, they clash blades. What happened? Out of arrows?—grins Mugen…

Jin, standing in guard, very slowly draws his katana down to his side. For one moment apprehension shows in Yukimaru’s eyes, but he can’t back down now. He charges. Jin stands there, motionless, until the last possible moment when he simply brings his blade up and lets Yuki’s momentum do the rest.

Blood runs down Jin’s katana. Yuki chokes, drops his sword, slumps against Jin’s shoulder. I lied when I said I wanted to become famous, he gasps; I just wanted to be you. Yukimaru, Jin says very quietly, closing his eyes; his voice is gentle and regretful, but he finishes him off with cold finality, pulling the katana up and clear with an awful tear and grate of steel on bone. Yukimaru falls.

Okuru and Mugen are battling when burning arrows suddenly streak between them; the Matsumae-Han have tracked them down.

Jin and Fuu pray over Yuki’s body, which Jin has laid by the riverside. Was he someone you knew? --she asks. He was like a younger brother, says Jin: it’s an old story—he hears something, pulls Fuu down out of sight. Men go running by. There he is, it’s Okuru! --they shout. Did they say Okuru, whispers Fuu, and when Jin says yes, she’s off down the path.

Mugen and Okuru are crouched among the rocks. The Matsumae-Han tell Okuru he can’t run anymore and should surrender. You bastards, get out of my way!—rails Mugen. More burning arrows—

Jin and Fuu are running after the men. Do you know this man Okuru, asks Jin. He saved my life, replies Fuu. You’re a woman with a strong sense of duty, observes Jin, and Fuu replies firmly that the world would be in darkness without a sense of duty. [One wonders if she noticed his question to the monk in #12.]

Okueu turns to Mugen and says he should go now. I’m tired of running, I need to settle this, he says, and what you said could be true—I might have died back there. Go. He stands, raises his hands to show he’s unarmed.

Jin and Fuu come to a crossroad—out of nowhere flies Momo-san. Where’s Okuru-san? Fuu asks the squirrel, and heads where it points. [Jin takes all this without a blink, though he's never before been asked to accept that Momo is any more intelligent than an average squirrel. But then, he has a lot on his mind at the moment...]

Okuru, says Tabata, I can bring your head home at last. You don’t know the truth, the Ainu says: that official wasn’t trying to help. He feared the spread of the disease and burned the village himself. Even if that’s true, my mission is to take you, says the captain, and they fire burning arrows directly into Okuru’s chest. Fuu and Jin have just arrived and Fuu gasps at this awful sight—

And they both see Mugen as, with his trademark battle-squall, he leaps over the rocks and down into the fray, sword flashing. You bastards, don’t touch my prey!—he bawls, and starts cutting down the Matsumae-Han. Well, if it’s Fuu and Mugen’s fight then it’s Jin’s fight too: next thing Mugen knows there’s a familiar figure slicing up Matsumae soldiers at his elbow, and he actually stops for a second in wide-eyed astonishment: “You?” –before hacking on.

Okuru kills Tabata, then, engulfed in fire, walks toward the waterfall’s edge, and we’re full circle, back to the scene we saw at the beginning of this story. And Mugen thinks: He is definitely alive.

And here’s our trio standing in the road, looking outward in three directions. So much for Yoshitsune’s ghost, says Fuu, I guess it was just combining rumors of those two. [Okuru and Yukimaru, presumably.] Kinda stupid...she sighs. Hey, Mugen asks her, what do you want to do when you find this sunflower samurai? Get revenge? I guess so; revenge for my mom, sort of, she says. Jin looks uncertain of this, but shrugs it off. Well, can’t fight on an empty stomach, so sayonara, he says, and starts off down the road, joined by Mugen. Hey, where are you going?—asks Fuu. So where the hell is Nagasaki, Mugen asks Jin, is there anything good to eat there? I’ve heard something about imported kasuteru [“castillo”—sponge cake], he replies. -- They’re getting out of range. Hey, hurry up, Mugen calls back to Fuu. She hesitates, then smiles a little, and runs to catch up with them…

Footnotes to the wonderful music in this episode by the estimable cowgirlnoir and bebop-aria:

"The vocalist who performs the song playing when Okuru goes to his village is named Umeko Ando. The album is IHUNKE and I believe the song is number 1, Pekambe Uk. Ando has received an Ainu Cultural Promotion Award and is an acclaimed instrumentalist as well as a vocalist. Some info on her career and a photo.

The tonkori player Oki performs the song that Okuru plays. The source album is the remastered version of his debut, KAMUY KOR NUPURPE, and the tracks used are #10 and 13, "SUSURIUKA (Willow Bridge)" and "UCHAORE (Communication)."

Both albums are on the Chikar Studio label and can be ordered from them. Information about the artists and the tonkori can be found on the Chikar Studio information page. An interesting side note is that Oki's Ainu name is Chikar."

Aria-san further noted that episode 17 bore a dedication to Umeko Ando, who, sad to report, died in July 2004.

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

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