Another folkloric episode brings Natsume into contact with a legendary koto player and her guardian.
What They Say
Natsume is possessed by a sick koto player, whose friend wants her to be able to play one last time.
The story this time begins with an umbrella. Not, as I first might have thought, with one of those one-legged, one-eyed umbrella youkai whose name I can't remember right now, but a regular old umbrella. Actually, a pretty old umbrella, but it's not the umbrella that's important. What's important is the man carrying it - and the spirit inside the gourd that he wears around his neck.
The umbrella carrier is looking for a host body for the spirit inside the gourd, and decides on Natsume as an ideal candidate. Natsume's somewhat uncharacteristic response is to punch him in the head. That takes care of the situation until the next morning, when Natsume wakes up and finds himself possessed by the spirit in the gourd. And if that isn't bad enough, the spirit is a girl's.
This of course leads to a bit of comic relief at school, as Natsume's unusual behaviour disconcerts several of his acquaintances and even a few passers-by. The situation comes off as more odd than funny, though, and we don't get to the real meat of the episode until Natsume starts to find out who the spirit inside him belongs to and what ties are still holding her to earthly life. What puts an interesting spin on the situation is that the spirit was against the idea of possessing Natsume in the first place: that was the guy with the umbrella's idea. She's apolgetic about the whole situation, but what's done is done, and the only way Natsume can release her is to give her what she's been hoping for many long years. The trick is finding out a way to do that. You see, she wants to be able to play the koto (a kind of Japanese lute, apparently) again, and koto aren't exactly two for a nickel in this day and age.
In the process of gathering materials to make a koto, Natume is able to carry on an internal conversation with the spirit that posesses him, and learns something of her history and her relationship to the umbrella carrier. Both worked for the same lord long ago, until a disease rendered her incapable of playing her music. This is where the episode starts coming into its own and feeling like it's the kind of story that belongs in the show. The story of the koto player and the umbrella carrier, and the misfortune that shatted the life they shared, has the fine, soft, tragic tone that Natsume Yujincho can always get something out of. When the koto is assembled and Natsume turns his body over to the musician for her final performance, it awakens the magic that makes me keep looking forward to the stories this series has to tell.
This episode of Natsume Yujincho isn't one of my top favourites. It takes a little too long to get going, and adds in a pointless scene of danger that interrupts the flow of the story near the end. But when it's good it's really good. Bittersweet, nostalgic, folkloric, and just a little romantic, this story has one of the more satisfying finishes we've seen yet, and rekindles the admiration I have for Natsume Yujincho when it's doing what it does best.
Japanese 2.0 Language, English 2.0 Language