|Alternate Title||Evil Spirits of Mountain and Stream|
Beatbox Bandits (魑魅魍魎 Chimimōryō) is the ninth episode of Samurai Champloo. It aired in Japan on July 22, 2004, and aired in America on July 9, 2005.
The episode opens on an elderly man identified as Yamane the Ogre, who has worked for 30 years guarding the Hakone checkpoint from people illegally trying to cross and is on the last day of his career. While giving a monologue about his history, he zeroes in on one particular day more than 30 years ago (not recorded in his logbook) when something went awry and no one was protecting the border, allowing everyone to cross.
The episode then flashes back to that day, starting with Mugen, Fuu, and Jin trying to figure out how to cross the checkpoint without any identification. A stranger conveniently walks by and offers to sell them travel permits, and they agree to do so. However, once at the checkpoint, the security there (the young Yamane present as well) finds that the documents are (obviously) forged, and our heroes are promptly arrested.
Fuu is forced to do a strip search while Mugen and Jin are beaten mercilessly by border security. They’re informed of their inevitable fate by Kinogasa, the commanding officer of the checkpoint who, as Yamane tells us, is a rotten person who abuses his power but comes from a prestigious Edo family, so no one can say anything about him.
While trying to find an excuse to execute our heroes and disobey protocol, Yamane gives Kinogasa an agreeable suggestion: he promises to let our heroes go free if Mugen can deliver a head to an unidentified location. Mugen heads off to complete the task, being warned of the supposed presence of Tengu (a creature from Japanese folklore), and Kinogasa sends Yamane to keep an eye on him.
Mugen makes his way to deliver the head, encountering an interruption from an enthusiastic jogger, and eventually he finds himself being tailed by a gang of robed figures in Tengu masks. He manages to outrun them but gets lost, and soon after he ends up falling into a trap planted by the Tengu. Yamane follows the Tengu’s trail and finds their meeting spot, where it turns out the Tengu are actually a massive gang of warrior priests long thought to be dormant and inactive. The warrior priests are given a rousing speech by their leader Aohabu who seeks to kickstart a religious uprising to overthrow the shogunate, even planning to use the grass they’ve cultivated to end all hatred.
Mugen is eventually brought out in front of the crowd to be made an example of, getting beaten up before being sentenced to an execution the next day. He’s bound up in a straw mat and held captive, and when Yamane tries to sneak in and save Mugen, he gets captured as well. Once he comes to, Yamane actually manages to flex his way out of the straw mat, taking the head and one of Mugen’s sandals as part of a plan to escape. He lights a fire and calls the guards to help, and when one of them shows up, he dives from above and kicks him in the neck.
The two of them escape to the grassy fields but are blocked by a group of warrior priests, and Mugen starts taking them out. As the fight proceeds, the flames eventually reach the grass, which freaks out Aohabu for reasons made clear in the next 15 seconds when everyone starts hallucinating. The warrior priests, as it turns out, were growing the devil’s cabbage.
Sunset rolls around as Fuu and Jin are still stuck at the security checkpoint waiting for Mugen. They see a figure run towards them and think it’s him, but it turns out to just be the jogger from earlier. Jin and Fuu are tied up on crosses and are about to be executed when the fumes from the warrior priests’ grasslands make their way to the execution site. Predictably everyone gets really high, leading up to the day in question that Yamane was talking about where thieves and criminals comingled with checkpoint guards, and no one was stopped from crossing the border.
The next day, Fuu and Jin manage to get away and wonder about where Mugen went when they suddenly pass by him and the warrior priests engaged in friendly hallucinogen-fueled shenanigans, much to their incredible displeasure. The episode ends back with old Yamane concluding his tale, wondering if our heroes remember that day as well as he does.