Maquia: When the Promised Flower Blooms is a Japanese animated film directed and written by Mari Okada (The Lost Village), and is about a woman named Maquia. Maquia is a member of the Iorph people, a group of tall, blonde people who send their days weaving a tapestry called the habiol, which is the way they record their emotions and memories. The Iorph are also blessed with an extraordinarily long life, living hundreds and hundreds of years, with one character casually saying they are over 400 years old. They also stop aging at the peak of their teenage years, so they look young forever, meaning that people do not really know how old a Iorph is. Maquia is a fifteen year old girl when the story begins, she is shy and conflicted about her emotions like most teenagers, and is just trying to find out what life is all about.
The movie gets underway when Maquia’s village is attacked by a human kingdom, which is looking to steal the women of the tribe in an attempt to create hybrids which will reign a long time. This is due to the hope that by doing so they can consolidate their reign and keep their family in power for generations with only a few rulers. During the attack one of the dragons that the soldiers ride in the village freaks out and gets the dragon equivalent of rabies. It freaks out and as Maquia is running away carrying the habiol it gets caught on the dragons wings. She is ripped up and taken far away from her home.
Upon landing she is disorientated and confused, she wanders around trying to find someone to help her when she stumbles across a bandit camp. She hears crying and runs over to the tent it is from, inside is a baby wrapped in the arms of its dead mother. Maquia decides to rescue the baby boy, who she calls Ariel, and raises him as her own, after all they are both people that now have no one, as Maquia believes her people have been wiped out. The story that follows is one of a woman who does not age raising a normal human boy.
That is the general plot synopsis but there are a few themes that also carry through in this movie. The first is that of love. When the movie starts, the leader of the Iorph village, a woman called Leilia is kidnapped and becomes the one chosen to give birth to the future rulers of the human kingdom of Mesarte, tells Maquia not to love anyone outside of the Iorph. This is for the obvious reason that she lives for a very long time, and anyone she loves will wither and die before her eyes. However, Maquia ignores this message, and the relationship that grows between her and Ariel is truly amazing.
As Ariel grows older the relationship between the two must change, Maquia stops being called mother by Ariel and instead is called sister as they look around the same age. At this point as well Ariel is a young man, and is trying to find his own feet and he does this by distancing himself from his mother, breaking away from her. However, the two are reunited during the final acts and the scenes between the two are truly meaningful and impactful. I am not a crier in movies, but this one almost wrenched a few out of my cold heart.
Another theme that is picked up on is mortality and mythology. The way that the two meet, with the mortal realm where people live and die, meeting with that of the mythical, where people live forever and dragons rule the roost is truly interesting. As more and more of the fantasy fades from reality (the dragons keeps going nuts and killing people before dying) the world starts to change. Before when there were parades with dragons marching down the streets from the castle, there are now cardboard dragons made to imitate the real thing. The fading of the mystical and interesting for the grim reality is so fascinating as it grounds the story in a world that is growing darker by the day, showing a contrast between the hope of fantasy and crushing sadness of reality. All this is peaked with the ending which adds a heartfelt and lighter note to reality, connecting this theme with the previous theme of love.
While the story is heartfelt and enjoyable it is also very long and at times disjointed. There are major skips in time in this film which are not announced. The only way you can tell is when a character either looks drastically different (such as Ariel going from being a child to being a teenager), or a character awkwardly says something like “It has been a few years since that happened”. These jumps happen a lot and while it is an interesting part of the movie to see people change around Maquia, it is also hard to reorient yourself sometimes when these jumps happen out of nowhere.
The movie is also really long. Clocking in at an hour and fifty five minutes there are times when I checked my watch. This is only made worse with the multiple fake endings and fades to black/white that make you think the movie is over. Much like the comedian who keeps coming back onto the stage, it was a little unwelcome when there were a lot of better jump off points than the one we got.
The animation in this movie is also really good, however at times it looks a little out of place. The sweeping panoramic 3-D animation contrasts with the 2-D sometimes creating a weird dissonance that throws you totally out of the moment. The sound in this movie is also deafening, I am not entirely sure if the cinema was trying to blow out my ear drums or if the mixing is off. Every time someone cries in this movie you have to grab your ears.
Despite these flaws however the movie is still thoroughly enjoyable. Providing a heart-warming plot, interesting characters and beautiful (if disjointed) animation, Maquia: When the Promised Flower Blooms is a must see for fans of drama and animation.