Director: Mari Okada
Starring: Manaka Iwami, Miyu Irino, Yoko Hikasa, Hirokai Hirata, Yoshimasa Hosoya, Ai Kayano, Misaki Kuno
An immortal girl and a normal boy meet and become friends, sharing a bond that lasts throughout the years. (Source: IMDb)
Anime is really thriving at the moment. With Mary & the Witch’s Flower (Meari to majo no hana), the first offering from Ghibli off-shoot Studio Ponoc proving there is wider success beyond the Japanese animation giants, and Makoto Shinkai’s masterpiece Your Name (Kimi no na wa) being not just one of the best anime films in recent years, but just one of the best films in recent years…full stop!
Whilst anime films are frequently fronted by strong female characters, they are less often helmed by a female director, but Maquia (Sayonara no asa ni yakusoku no hana o kazarô) is directed by writer/director Mari Okada. Something that anime films seem to do incredibly well is seamlessly blend the fantastical with the natural, and this is something that Maquia excels in. The film you think it is at the start is not the film it ends up being, and whilst the tonal shifts don’t always work, Okada’s vision is clear, and it sees its emotional threads right through to the end.
We spend the majority of the film with Maquia, a young immortal girl who belongs to a clan who live out their endless days in relative peace and isolation. When their home is invaded by an army who are seeking their immortal blood, Maquia escapes. Out in the real world, she happens across an orphaned baby boy and decides to raise him. As the boy ages and Maquia stops aging in her teens, we see their unconventional mother and son relationship play out over many years.
Despite the fantastical pretense, Maquia instead ends up being mostly about the changing relationship between a “mother” and “son”, in the most unconventional ways. When exploring their relationship, there is undeniable beauty, and it reaches many emotional peaks as the film progresses. It does however feel like two films, woven slightly together not unlike the delicate threads of Maquia’s people. It unfortunately doesn’t go into enough depth about the mythology and the more fantastical elements, which actually felt slightly more interesting than the familial relationships it focuses on.
The exposition is very light, and it takes some rather big jumps in time which feel jarring given the rest of the film’s considered place. Some character threads are not necessarily tied up sufficiently and it suffers (as so many anime films often do!) from too much going on at once.
As one would expect, the animation is utterly stunning, and the favoured modern anime approach of mixing computer and hand-drawn animation is blended together seamlessly. There’s several shots you just wish you could sit and look at for hours on end, and it is the imagery which has the lingering power after the film has finished.
I saw this movie and you should too. Maquia certainly isn’t a bad movie by any stretch, and the gorgeous animation alone makes it worth a watch. The story however is a little long-winded and it suffers from not fully exploring the interesting world in which we find ourselves. The central relationship is charming though, and the emotional journey is an exquisite one. The bar for modern anime has perhaps been set a little too high with Your Name, and whilst Maquia doesn’t reach those lofty heights, it is still a solid offering.