Episode 20–"Elegy of Entrapment (verse 1)"


[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. Please read footnotes..]


Sound over: a sad tune plucked on the shamisen, a woman singing.

Pouring rain. Fuu runs down the street and ducks under the eaves of a building. The proprietor steps out and Fuu apologizes for taking shelter on his premises. He invites her inside; she says she has no money; the friendly fellow says that there's no reason to be shy, he enjoys hearing travellers' stories, so she should come on in. Mugen and Jin catch up with her and take him at his word, walking straight in, Mugen even placing his dinner order at the door. Fuu apologizes…

Inside, the audience is listening enraptured to the musician's performance, some in tears. Mugen is cramming down food (on the house, to the friendly owner's slight dismay) but still paying attention--while Jin picks through his usual single bowl of rice. When she finishes Fuu stands and applauds, and the proprietor says that the song makes him cry every time he hears it. Jin remarks that a goze''s song sounds sad because we are being shown things we cannot see. Goze'? asks Mugen. A blind traveling performer, says Jin. (See footnote.)

Her set over, the singer comes to the bar where the group is eating. Fuu praises her performance. She smiles slightly but says nothing. Mugen says that song was too gloomy for someone so pretty to sing, and offers her a drink; she declines. Two rough-looking guys then crowd up to her, complaining that it's troublesome to them for a goze' to perform here; local musicians, seemingly. Fuu scolds them, but the lady says it’s all right, she doesn't want sympathy for her blindness. Fuu looks taken aback. How about we crush your hand so you can't play the shamisen? threatens one thug. Mugen's had enough; he grabs the guy's jaw. How about I crush this mouth so you can't make any more trouble?--he grins, adding a headbutt for good measure. The other pulls a knife, quick scuffle, and the thugs are soon sent packing into the rain. Mugen tosses the knife after them.

Jeez, what losers, says Mugen, and asks the lady's name. It's Sara. Well, this isn't sympathy, says he cheerfully, I have ulterior motives. [or "this is my pick-up line", which sounds very in character to me.] He puts his arm around her shoulders. I like you, he says; your face and your stubbornness. And that's as far as he gets before getting a katana-hilt in the jaw and a pink sandal over the head--go, team chaperoning!

So you three have been traveling together? Sara asks. She's headed for Hyuga, a bit further south. Fuu looks put out that Sara has the guys' complete attention, until Sara addresses her and apologizes for spurning her help with the thugs. No problem, says Fuu. If it's all right could we travel together?--suggests Sara. Since I'm in your debt I'll pay for the lodgings. Mugen looks speculative, Fuu surprised, Jin is typically expressionless...

We see them traveling: walking, sleeping on the floor of a temple, sitting in a field listening to Sara play. Fuu notices a child's pinwheel toy and has an odd vision of a field of pinwheels turning into sunflowers. Mugen and Jin take up bodyguard/club bouncer duty at Sara's performances. Sara is well paid and our group eats much more regularly than they're used to.

Fuu says happily that this is much nicer than when they had to fight with their lives for a single dango (skewered dumpling). Mugen is wolfing down a mouthful of skewers. Jin studies the little owl figurine that hangs from the neck of Sara's shamisen; none of my business, he says, but isn’t that a Kishiboujin amulet? (See footnote.) To remind you of a child? Yes, I was wondering about that too, adds Fuu. Yes, says Sara. Dead?--asks tactful Mugen, and Fuu shushes him. No, the child is alive. With the father then? --asks Fuu, and Sara says no, there is no father; he left her because of her blindness; you aren’t considered fit to be a parent when you're blind. Doesn't it make you laugh, for a woman like that to sing the "Kuzunoha no Kowakare"? (See footnote.)

At a nice inn, Fuu admonishes the guys that they're only able to stay at such a place because of Sara, and they'd better behave themselves. She firmly points out which room is for the guys and which is for her and Sara (catching Mugen trying to guide Sara off to the other side).

Sara is bathing in the inn's hot spring when Mugen dives in beside her. She calmly addresses him by name and he grumbles that she's no fun, he thought she'd be surprised enough to scream at least. So how did she know it was he? Every person has their own unique presence which I understand well, she says; I don't want you to feel sorry for me. He looks at her keenly. Don't bullshit me, he says; if you were so content with your life you wouldn't sing such sad songs.

Fuu, heading for the spring, shrieks when she sees Mugen there and accuses him of perverted intentions; he rightly defends himself, saying he was doing no such thing. Anyway why shouldn’t he be here, it's not like she can see him. Just get out of there, orders Fuu. Mugen stands up, giving Fuu an eyeful (she hastily covers her eyes) and stomps sulkily toward the door, saying that their conversation was just getting interesting. He adds as a parting shot at Fuu (who is huddled in a naked ball by the door, hiding herself from Mugen, who she did not expect to find here) that she's got nothing that needs hiding.

Fuu, in the spring with Sara, asks anxiously if Mugen tried anything. Sara instead asks her what Mugen looks like, saying that she can only see him in her imagination. Fuu realizes in embarrassment that Sara was in no distress alone with Mugen. Flustered, she stammers that he's a spoiled brat and as ugly as an ape. Sara seems unruffled.

Mugen dries off while talking to Jin: well, this is the first time I've seen a woman with no break in her armor. I like her more and more, he grins. Jin is polishing his sword, cryptically asks him "did you see?" Mugen has no idea what he means. Fuu opens the door and bows to Mugen. Gomen nasai: I'm very sorry, she says formally. What the hell?…puzzles Mugen…

Fuu and Sara in their room at the inn. Fuu talks about the Sunflower Samurai and how he must be nearby now; she'll definitely punch him if she sees him. She asks if Sara's child is a girl or boy: a boy. Sara asks if Fuu ever wishes she would never reach Nagasaki, since that will put an end to her journey. Fuu smiles at her. How strange, she says, I feel as if you'd looked into my heart. Sara says that because she can't see her other senses are very sharp: like smell, the feel of the wind on her skin, or the presence of an animal. Like your little friend on your chest, there, she adds as Momo pops out and flies around the room. Fuu is impressed. Sara pauses. But I can't tell what people feel…which one do you not want to part with? Fuu flusters again, says she doesn't really have that sort of relationship with them, hides under the covers (so cute…) and says "I don't know"… but she does sometimes wish this journey could continue forever, even though she knows it can't. And you, Sara-san? When will your journey end? I don't know..maybe when I die, that's my destiny, she says.

We see Sara praying at the well of a shrine while Fuu and Jin talk. Fuu wants to help reunite Sara with her son. Jin says that no one should interfere. But they're family, says Fuu, shouldn't they be together?-- A masked pinwheel dealer walks by chanting, carting his wares and followed by giggling kids; Jin glances after him thoughtfully; he holds Jin's attention until Fuu asks him if he's listening to her.

As they walk along a waterside, Fuu asks Sara what she wished for at the well; something for her child? I have a favor to ask you about that, says Sara-san…

They're walking through the lights and vendors of a street fair. Sara seems to have been talking about her next destination. I see, to where your child is, says Jin. Mugen seems unhappy that they're to part so soon; Sara asks him to look at the goods for sale and pick out something a boy would like. Fuu is walking some distance behind the other three, thinking about the favor Sara asked…

Mugen grabs a passing kid and asks him what he'd like; your sword, laughs the kid; yeah right, I'll cut you with it, says Mugen letting him go. He calls to Fuu for help with the question. [Interesting look at Mugen the outsider; he has no idea what a little boy in this culture would want as a plaything.] She's leaning on a tree, looking more distressed than ever; suddenly she runs off. Hey, Jin calls, going after her.

Again we flash back to Sara and Fuu by the waterside and hear her request: she wants to borrow one of Fuu's bodyguards for her journey. I want one of them to come along, Mugen or Jin, whichever, she says.

We see the pinwheel man from before, sitting among his wares. He's somehow eerie…

Mugen and Sara walk through the fair. I wonder if the child will be happy, she says. As long as I can remember I didn’t have parents, so I would never know, he says. Maybe we're alike, she says, not knowing the word happiness; I was only able to see ordinary dreams when my child was born. Mugen looks at her a little warily….

Jin catches up to sad Fuu standing on a bridge. What happened?--he asks. Fuu tries to hide that she's crying, hastily wipes her eyes on her sleeve. It's nothing, I'm sorry...I'm really sorry, she says, not able to keep back another sob. Jin looks earnestly concerned but says nothing.

Mugen, eating at a street stall, looks around for Sara, who's vanished. We see her talking to the masked pinwheel man. You do understand, he says; this is the only way you will live. Don't forget that. She closes her eyes.

They're all eating together; Mugen is chowing down, complaining that this is the last day he'll be able to eat good food (i.e. since Sara will no longer be there to pay for it =). Jin chides him for talking with his mouth full. Fuu makes up her mind and calls for attention. Jin, she says, I want you to go along with Sara-san. What? What about me? --rails Mugen. It'd be dangerous if you were with her; Jin won't do those kinds of things, replies Fuu firmly. Mugen strongly disagrees. Fuu addresses Jin: Sara-san wants to live together with her child, but there are many problems..anyway, please be her help. Jin looks from Fuu to Sara, closes his eyes, says simply "all right." Fuu gasps.

So…sunset…they come to a fork in the road, Jin and Sara, and Mugen and Fuu. Sara bows to Fuu: thank you for taking care of me, she says. Jin is impassive as ever; Mugen picks his nose, pointedly dismissing the moment; Fuu says bravely, it would be great if we could meet again sometime. Jin smiles slightly, says goodbye and good luck, turns and goes, Sara same. Good health! Fuu calls after them, waving. Once they're out of sight Mugen grumbles "that guy sure left easily." Fuu bursts into tears: I can't believe this! Mugen looks puzzled. For him to accept so easily, after we've been together this long...I thought Jin would refuse! she wails. So did I--I wanted to be with her, growls Mugen. (There's a suggestion of "And if it was me, you’d be glad to be rid of me?") He stomps off, yelling at her to stop crying. [You can stop now, Mugen, we all see through you.] ---Meanie! Baka! sobs Fuu, trotting after him…

Darkness and moonlight. A log-and-rope suspended bridge over a deep river chasm. Jin goes first, carrying a paper lantern; out of nowhere a dart rips it out of his hand and carries it into the river below. Sara drops her luggage, whips off her hat and cloak, stands facing him. Jin's been here before. Who sent you? --he asks. Someone you guys can't match, she replies, spinning her walking staff in one hand--snap, and three wicked blades spring out. [It's a yari, a very old type of polearm used by both samurai men and women. Properly Sara's three-bladed version is a kama-yari.] Jin gives her a hard stare. Truthfully I don't want to do anything like this, says Sara, but this is my destiny. She lunges at Jin, the blade sings past his head nearly grazing him, twice. I see there's no need to hold back, says Jin, drawing his sword. She's good; they slash and parry, he blocks her blade-to-blade, holds her in place. As expected from the one who killed Mariya Enshiro, she remarks coldly. What?! --he startles.

She strikes again. He's going for her no-holds-barred but she's dodging him effortlessly. A log of the bridge breaks under his foot and he struggles for balance. What's going on? he asks himself, can she see my movements? Sara smiles. It's not these eyes that see, she says; draws back and charges with a shriek.

To be continued…

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Footnotes:

Goze': blind female traveling musicians who sing and play the shamisen. At one point there were as many as 1,000 Goze' in Japan, but the number dwindled quickly after the war; it was one of the few occupations permitted to the blind (besides masseuse and shrine maiden) .Before World War II, Goze' travelled around northern Japan, playing the shamisen and telling stories wherever there was an audience. They typically formed groups, each consisting of a master and a few subordinates, as well as several sighted women who acted as guides.

Vladimir from the Adult Swim board contributes this: "In the mizuko kuyo ceremony intended to honor the memory of a deceased child or an abortion, it's common to place a pinwheel next to the Jizo statue to amuse the child's spirit. Consequently, the pinwheels in this ep [and episode 21] have considerable symbolic power. You'll remember pinwheels were prominently featured in CB's "Hard Luck Woman" ep."

Kishibojin symbolizes the selfish nature of mothers who go to terrible lengths to protect their children. She was originally a Hindu deity, an aspect of Black Mother Kali, who kidnapped and killed the children of others to feed them to her own flesh-eating demon offspring. She was reformed by Buddha (he kidnapped one of her own children to make her feel the pain of those whose children she had taken) and became a defender of the faith and a protector of children. She thus makes a great patron goddess for an assassin, who literally kills the children of others to feed her own and herself. (Interestingly, I can't find any reference to the owl being used as a symbol for her, but other goddesses of the same "dark mother" type--Lilith and Lamia for a few--are often pictured as owls.)
A useful article about her.

The song Sara sings and refers to is called "Kuzunoha no kowakare" - "Kuzunoha's Child Separation":
Kuzunoha was a fox who took human form ('kitsune')and in the guise of a maiden (in some versions a princess), married Abe no Yasuna, a twelfth-century nobleman who had saved the fox from hunters. Kuzunoha bore him a child, who would become the future famous astrologer Abe no Seimei. Ultimately Kuzunoha was compelled by various circumstances (depending on the version of the dramatization or legend) to reclaim her fox nature and return to her natural home in Shinoda Forest. So with unbearable sadness she abandoned her husband and son, after writing a famous farewell poem on which the song is based. The poem may be read as:"Koishiku ba / tazunekite miyo / izumi naru / shinoda no mori no / urami kuzunoha" ("If you long to love me, / Search for me in / Shinoda no mori, / Izumi Province / with regret, Kuzunoha.").
There is also a pun between her name 'Kuzunoha' and 'kudzu no ha', the "kuzu leaf" (arrowroot) that grows in the Shinoda forest, which is referenced by Anime-Forever in their sub of the episode.



Samurai Champloo characters, visuals and materials (c) 2004-5 manglobe.
Original story synopsis written and (c) 2005 by Paula O'Keefe.

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