Here we have the finale, and the resolution of Ichi’s past catching up to him. It’s a resolution that does not have much action but is still very satisfying, though I realize that it might not be to everyone’s tastes (ghostlightning being one of those whose opinion differs from mine.) Ichi, Jin, and Yagi come together forming three parts of Ichi’s life, and how he deals with the self that each of them represent was a great conclusion to his character. And that’s really what House of Five Leaves is about. Not so much about a plot that moves forward, but about the people involved and the lives they lead. And from this perspective, it’s quite a satisfying series.
Using closeups on a few detailed, meaningful objects as in previous episodes, the cups and sake vessels serve as an effective contrast to Ichi’s life with the Five Leaves and the past that Yagi brings him out to discuss over drinks. The present has a much cooler color set and a unified blue design on the cups, and the past is rough, chipped, and red in its color palette.
Yagi shows up to finally have that drink with Seinoshin. For some reason, Yagi’s appearance reminds me of Shotglass from the original Wing Commander.
A neat rotating pan up captures Ichi as he staggers back from the bar. Staggering possibly from having an extra bit of sake, but mostly from having come face to face with his past. Though he didn’t run from the meeting, even when he had the chance when Yagi went for a refill.
And now the other part of Ichi’s past come stalking back.
The rest of the Five Leaves come together at Ume’s, each of them worried in their own ways for Ichi since he hasn’t come back. Otake, Ume, and Matsu also speculate about the future of the group, and it’s brought up that Ichi is planning another job but this time asked them if they’d be interested instead of telling like the leader he is. He’s still out when Masa leaves to go to Katsura-ya, and he’s not their either as Masa finds Matsu waiting outside the windows looking for him as well. Ichi wanders the streets with Jin following him, giving him some time before trying to kill him. His intention is clear, but he starts talking with Ichi, telling him that one of their old gang members is dead, implying that Ichi killed him after turning in the rest to the police. Then near the bridge where Ichi initially gave his recruitment pitch to Masa, Jin tells him that the agent from Ichi’s family wasn’t Yaichi. Ichi’s composure has been steadily fading over the last few episodes, but now it breaks. While it’s never spoken directly, what I took from it was that Ichi killed Yaichi or had him killed in the suspicious well accident, but now knowing that he really cared for him he feels even more intensely betrayed, but by Jin. There aren’t many moments of swordplay or combat in this show, and they’re always short and realistic, and this is one of them as Ichi charges and fatally stabs Jin. He kills him and obtains a hollow justice, but more important to him now is wandering to the graveyard and finding Yaichi’s grave to make what amends he can.
The shot and conversation are set up just like the ones between Matsu and Ichi, and showing Masa in a role like Ichi’s happens again in this episode.
I knew that cat was getting fatter as the series went on!
Fighting is brief and simple in this show, something I really appreciated given the tone. It’s violence is realistic and a means to an end, not the focus of the show. While that might have disappointed some people expecting a show in the Edo period to feature it more prominently, more of it or more stylized combat wouldn’t have been a good fit for this show in my opinion.
This is the only show I’ve ever watched where I’ve had to stop playback several times each episode to just admire the art. And it serves up lots of brief shots like this one to really show off how good it looks.
There are no words spoken other than a single utterance of Yaichi’s name, and it’s all that’s needed. I think that any more would have been too melodramatic given the atmosphere of House of Five Leaves.
Dawn comes as Masa finds Ichi in the graveyard, and kneeling there he sees Ichi still crying over Yaichi’s grave. Again mostly wordless, Ichi then moves and cries on Masa’s knee. It was pretty touching how he felt able to turn to Masa for help like that, and with his past so unsettling, it’s only Masa’s friendship that can really show him a way forward now that he knows what he’s done. With no ill words for the other members of the Five Leaves, they themselves didn’t have the right mix of curiosity, candor, and initiative to connect with the side of Ichi that he kept hidden. But they are very important in forming a sense of place for both characters, and on Masa’s return to the bar he’s greeted by the warm friendship and camaraderie of the others. Ichi isn’t at the bar though, so Masa goes out again to look for him at the shrine. There in exactly the same position, geographically and emotionally, as Masa at the start of the series, Ichi sits slumped against the stone lantern despondent. And then, playing the role of Ichi again, Masa shows up offering some dango, and quotes the same words that Ichi used back to him: “when you’re hungry, anything tastes good.” And with that he’s pulled out of his downtrodden thoughts and smiling, eats one of the dango without even taking the stick first.
Ichi is broken down after having the foundations of his past revealed as false, but now Masa is the one who helps him out. It was a touching scene, though I’m sure in a way that would spawn much doujinshi, heh.
Somewhere to come home to. And who wouldn’t want to with smooth Otake and DDAAAWWW Okinu to greet you?
Bringing everything to a close, we’re back to where everything started but with roles reversed and a solid friendship between them.
Final Thoughts: – You’ll here a different perspective from ghostlightning after this, but for me I greatly enjoyed the show and how it ended. I didn’t feel that it needed much of a progressing plot, or more action than it had. At its core it’s about the characters, getting to know them, and getting a feel for their lives and emotions. And it was done very well. Pasts, temperaments, motivations, and values were shown in detail for almost all the characters. I’m perfectly fine with ‘nothing happening’ as seen from a plot progression viewpoint. The characters and their lives were well presented, and using the visual and musical presentation, felt like the show just seeped into my mind as I watched it. It’s hard to explain, but instead of one moment or event striking me like in most fiction, the entire experience flowed over me like a wave.
- Ichi existed and developed almost as four characters. There was Seinoshin, the dejected, unwanted heir to a family that would later die out. Kidnapped and told to be killed by someone he greatly trusted (or so he was told), he became Sei, an unhesitating killer and bandit. Sei was ruled by vengeance. Direct in his hunt for Yaichi, and indirect in the violence he quickly dispensed to those around him. Betraying his gang and moving to Edo, he became Ichi when he started the Five Leaves. Here he still acted on a desire for revenge, but time had cooled his temper and now he hid his motivations for kidnapping under a desire to leave the past behind, have fun, and make money. And now that he knows the truth about his past and has found a true and close friend in Masa, he’s become a fourth person, a sort of New Ichi who has had some closure with his past and can now open up more as a person. His smile and jovial attitude when Masa brought him the dango seemed to show a new phase in his life. It was a splendid thing to witness a character developed in such a way, changing several times over his life.
- As I mentioned earlier in the post, for me there really are no shows that come close to the art in House of Five Leaves. I’ve watched plenty of other shows where I’ve appreciated the style and shot composition, but it’s no exaggeration to say that this is the only one where I’ve stopped playback several times per episode, every episode, just to take it in. The overall design, the details, the thematic use of objects, the shot composition, the use of colors and textures, all of it.
- The only thing I would have changed was to add more time for Otake, and maybe on Sachi and Okinu. The women unfortunately didn’t get enough time devoted to their characters independently, though they did have some very good moments with the group. Otake should have had an episode to herself, if not two, and I think that could have been accomplished even with the 12 episode timeframe. In an ideal world I’d have liked Okinu and Sachi to have an episode or two of their own, but given time constraints I would have at least liked a bit of delving into their personalities, lives, and pasts as a side point to the main characters.
ghostlightning’s thoughts and commentary