So it’s off to google a few pages to get ready for the final Aoi Bungaku episode, Ryunosuke Akutagawa’s “Hell Screen.” I shouldn’t have to do this, I suppose. I could simply take what the anime gives me and work with that, but it’s more interesting to see how it embellishes the original. On the other hand I’m not reading the actual text, so I’m bound to miss out on something.
In the anime Yoshihide, the Emperor’s favorite painter, is given a new commision, the paint the interior of the Emperor’s massive tomb. But first he and his daughter Mitsuki witness first hand some of the cruelties found in the kingdom. Apparently the original suggests that Yoshihide is dedicated to depicting the awful things as closely as he can, but in the anime (and maybe in the original, again, I haven’t read it), the character is appalled by what he sees. Yet he paints it anyway. Such is the pain of being a dedicated artist.
The Emperor (the same guy as in “The Spider’s Thread”) is cruel, vicious, and vain, but with a great sense of style. When he sees the painting it’s his turn to be appalled. Oddly enough, he doesn’t have Yoshihide’s head right away. Maybe he still wants Yoshihide to finish the job. Meanwhile, Yoshihide is already aware that he’s already signed his death warrant and is simply waiting for the death blow. This gives him tremendous power; he knows he will die anyway, so he is free to paint it how he sees it.
But he can’t; his artistic instincts won’t be satisfied unless he sees something else horrific: Someone being burned alive (which he’s seen before, so I don’t know why he needs to see it again, but anyway …). In the service of art even Yoshihide can turn to immorality. The wacky Emperor agrees, and it’s little surprise that the victim is his daughter Mitsuki. The scene is cruel, yet beautiful to watch. And it doesn’t quite work out the way the Emperor planned.
After all, Mitsuki also expected to die, so she dies willingly, so that her father can take her death and use it in his work. In her death she becomes a sort of beautiful angel. The tortured artist Yoshihide seems redeemed by her sacrifice. It’s a lovely moment. … Oh, and the flames catch on to the Imperial Canopy, so the Emperor dies. That was a lovely moment, too. It wasn’t in any plot synopsis I read, but good riddance. Perhaps the evil Emperor getting away unscathed isn’t something modern-day television viewers could stomach, but it’s a satisfying touch.
This episode lives up the the artistic and animation standards set by the previous ones. The immolation scene and the final images of the finished tomb are astonishing. They give off a near 3-D effect. And they certainly dignify Yoshihide and Mitsuki’s deaths.
Amazing stuff, this series. I’m sorry to see it end, on the other hand, it requires a lot more thought and study than most other shows. It’s worn me out. So I guess it’s time I watch the netflixed, live-action Cutie Honey.