Let’s Decorate the Promised Flowers in the…errr… Maquia.

Posted by DiGiKerot in One shots at March 4, 2018 on 10:01 pm

I really loved this movie. Actually had trouble talking straight afterwards, honestly. Left me very emotional.

To elaborate, though, today saw the first screening of Maquia: When the Promised Flower Blooms (as it’s being dubbed for it’s general UK release in a few months – as opposed it’s rather long winded full title of Let’s Decorate the Promised Flowers in the Farewell Morning, or Sayonara no Asa ni Yakusoku no Hana o Kazaru, or just Sayoasa for those who don’t go for movies with names the length of light novel titles) outside of Japan, at the Glasgow Film Theatre in Glasgow, and I went along to see it.

Now, if you are in the UK, or just get most of your news via the BBC, you may be aware of the fact that the country is presently somewhat bogged down with snow. This isn’t, admittedly, the level of snow that would trouble a country like Canada or something, but given this level of snowfall is rather uncommon over here, we aren’t really equipped to deal with it at all. I should also point out that I don’t live anywhere particularly close to Glasgow – I live south of the border, infact. Under usual conditions, it’s the best part of a three hour trip in each direction. Today… it wasn’t actually much worse than that, even if it did require a degree of reorganisation thanks to some particularly annoying cancellations. Had the screening been yesterday, it would have been entirely impossible for me to actually make the thing given that train services heading North of me were not running at all until yesterday evening. It was something of a relief to discover that some degree of relatively normal service had been restored today.

Most of this is to say that, whilst this may not be as crazy as, say, flying over here from Catalonia to see a Naoko Yamada movie, this stuff isn’t actually that straight forward for me. I put my effort (and money) into seeing my anime movies early. I mean, it’s the first movie to see the often celebrated, often maligned, almost always at least interesting screenwriter Mari Okada receive the Directors credit, which made it rather difficult to pass on the chance to see.

That being said, I’m actually going to keep this relatively brief – don’t particularly want to spoil too much given that you’re going to struggle to see this outside of Japan for at least a few more months (the general UK release is current scheduled for the end of June).

Maquia is the name of the movies central character. She’s an Iolph – a member of a race who have purposefully secluded themselves from the rest of the world, easily identified by their shockingly blonde hair and generally ethereal appearance. The Iolph spend their days working looms, weaving a form of particularly valuable cloth called Hibiol, which captures the memories and feelings of the one who weaves it in a fashion that’s parseable by those particularly familiar with it. The Iolph are also exceptionally long-lived, their growth diminishing rapidly once they hit their teen years, with some of their race living for at least 400 years.

Maquia isn’t as confident and perky as her friend Leilia, or as mature as male friend Clear, and unlike either of them, she doesn’t have parents. Although living with the village elder, she often feels as if she is alone in the world. Still, the elder warns her, if she ever does find herself outside of their village, she shouldn’t fall in love with anyone, for it’s an Iolph’s destiny to outlive all around them, making them feel what it’s truly like to be all alone in the world.

Of course, what inevitably happens is that, on the morning where she finds that Clear and Leilia are romantically involved, she finds herself transported outside of the village. Aware of the legends surrounding their long lives, the military of a neighbouring country invades atop the dragon-like creatures that have allowed them to become the dominant military force on the continent, looking to abduct the woman-folk.

This isn’t actually what happens to Maquia, however – one of the dragons suddenly takes a turn for the rabid, the knights losing control of it. This is actually part of the reason that they invaded – with the declining number of dragons due to this condition at their disposal, they are looking to add the resilience and long-life of the blood of the Iolph to the royal line – but as the knights are going about their business, Maquia finds herself carried along by enraged dragon as it flees, eventually dumped far away from home, all alone.

It’s then that she stumbles across a settlement of travellers, slaughtered by bandits, where she finds a newborn child crying, held by his deceased mother. Unable to leave the boy alone, Maquia elects to name him Erial, and decides to try and raise him alone.

All that actually only amounts to about the first twenty minutes of what is only slightly less that two hours of movie – about up to the point where the movies title card finally drops, infact. It’s a movie with an awful lot in it, but an awful lot of that is backdrop, the setting rather than what the movie is actually concerned about. It’s a film which sets up a lot of stories which would be the main thrust of most movies, only to only sporadically hark back to them in the specific circumstances in which they become immediately relevant. In a fashion, it almost feels like there’s an entire other movie running concurrently to this one in which Maquia and Erial are the ones who are only bit players, but one Okada was less interested in telling.

It’s something of a messy movie as a result, in a fashion that harkens back more to movies from a couple of decades ago as opposed to anything I can think of more recently. The movie is actually almost entirely about Maquia raising Erial, as Erial ages whilst Maquia remains unchanged. There are some occasionally somewhat abrupt narrative transitions as it suddenly jumps in time unannounced, the characters completely relocating, or their relationship fundamentally changing off-screen in the interim. To some degree, it ends up feeling a little like one of those old Galaxy Express 999 movies, or Wind of Amnesia, or one of those other travelogue-esque movies, as Maquia and Erial find themselves in places with completely different dynamics, though unlike those its never really explicitly about where they are. Other characters weave into and out of the story without ever necessarily becoming the focus of it.

I suppose that if it wasn’t for Wolf Children, this would be a pretty singular anime movie in that it’s about love that isn’t in the romance sense of the word – whilst Clear and Leilia’s relationship echoes throughout the movie, that’s not what the relationship between Maquia and Erial is about, or ever becomes (though I only even point out for those who worry about these things turning all Usagi Drop). It’s very much a familial relationship.

It is a movie that is probably going to drive certain people nuts, though. It’s not exactly subtle about some of it’s themes, and when it comes to it’s characters feelings it’s at times only an “Obama” label short of being as blunt as an American political cartoon. A certain reductive kind of critic will probably have a field day complaining about how much ends up coming down to convenience or happenstance – there’s a lot that hinges on characters just happening to appear, or reappear, at certain points at certain times in ways that stretch belief a little, even if thematically relevant. I can forgive it much of this, though it’s part of what ends up making it feel a little messy, as it will suddenly revisit a plot thread from a great while earlier only when it becomes a necessary vector to upend the status quo again. If you are the kind of person who was infuriated that The Last Jedi didn’t give them the scoop on Snokes back-story, you might want to sit this one out, as it’s treats those kinds of irrelevances as just that – again, things which would be major plotlines or mysteries in other movies are dressing here, often never expounded on, addressed, or happening entirely off-screen.

I don’t particularly want to comment on the animation, as it’s the kind of lavish production that you probably want to see the likes of Sakugablog pulling apart once the movie is actually generally available, but it’s generally top-tier theatrical stuff. There’s a couple of CG shots which stand out a little too much – one mostly only because they’d achieved similar, if not more complicated, cuts earlier in the movie without it. Background art is outstandingly beautiful throughout, though.

Anyway, whilst I suspect some people are really going to hate this, it’s another strong, and very idiosyncratic, theatrical anime in what has become an extended period of phenomenal work. Whilst it’s not really likely to find the same kind of general audience or fairly ubiquitous praise of the likes of Your Name or A Silent Voice, it’s the kind of the movie which is likely to resonate with a portion of it’s audience more than either of them, and it’s certainly accomplished enough that it can hold it’s head high on the strength of it’s achievements.

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