Mari Okada has more writing credits in her filmography than most can hope for in an entire career. Writing on stories such as Anohana: The Flower We Saw That Day and The Anthem of the Heart, Okada is one of the anime industry’s most prolific screenwriters. Maquia: When the Promised Flower Blooms is Okada’s directorial debut, in an effort that let’s her express her creativity to it’s fullest extent. The question is: can Okada direct a film that is both as successful and emotionally impactful as her writing? The answer is a resounding yes. She directs this film with an ambition and craftsmanship that rewards the audience with one of the most beautifully told tales to come along in some time.
Maquia: When the Promised Flower Blooms centers on a young girl named Maquia, who is an Iorph, a race of people who age much slower than mortals. Called The Clan of the Separated, the Iorph isolate themselves as their extended youth causes problems in a normally aging society. Fifteen year old Maquia is lonely, she has no family or partner to call her own. The Clan’s chief, Racine, tells Maquia that isolation is their way and that if she were ever to pursue connections with humans, she would come to know true loneliness. Maquia reluctantly accepts this, until the nearby kingdom of Mezarte attacks the Iorph in an effort to discover the secret behind their seemingly eternal youth. The Mezarte kill several Iorph and steal Maquia’s friend, Princess Leilia, but Maquia escapes with her life.
Maquia finds herself in a recently ransacked village where she discovers a newborn baby whose parents have just been murdered. She takes the crying infant from it’s lifeless mother, entranced when it’s tiny hand grasps at her finger. Maquia and the baby boy find refuge with a family at a nearby cottage. She names the baby boy Ariel and this is where Maquia’s emotional journey truly begins.
There is a question posed at the center of Maquia: is love worth the pain that it can bring? There’s an understanding that with loving something or someone, it can be taken from you. Maquia has to come to terms with this more than anyone else. She will live hundreds of years longer than any human she ever meets. As Ariel ages, she comes to grips with the all too painful fact that one day he’ll be gone, and she will be alone once again. Maquia has to decide for herself if she can be strong and raise him or cry for her eventual loss. She chooses her love for Ariel, promising to him and herself that she won’t cry anymore.
This decision isn’t easy on Maquia throughout the film. As time moves quicker and Ariel gets older, Maquia has to deal with losing him in more ways than one. As he becomes a teenager, he becomes distant and cold to his mother. Maquia doesn’t know how to cope with this problem other than to keep loving her son. Through all of their difficulties and emotional hiccups, Maquia’s love remains true until the end. The film answers it’s central question slowly as Maquia comes to grips with the fact that loss can indeed be beautiful. Even if Ariel is only hers for a portion of her life, it was much more fulfilling to have loved him than have been completely alone. She decides that love is worth all of the pain it could bring her, for at least she had the beautiful experience.
Love and loss are just one of many themes that make this film so emotionally resonant. This film also deals with the horrors of time. Due to her eternal youth, Maquia watches everyone around her rapidly age. It hurts her to feel left behind as her loved ones slowly move toward death and she doesn’t. Seeing someone struggle to cope with time as the biggest threat to her happiness is painfully relatable. Time takes away from us as a species more than anything else. Time especially hurts Maquia in every way possible. She wishes time would slow down so that she can enjoy her loved ones. She also has too much time in the sense that she will live to eventually be alone. Time is the one villain that always wins but this film showcases beautifully that time well spent is worth the inevitable downfall.
On a technical level, Maquia is a marvel to behold. The animation of this movie is dazzling, vibrant, and inviting. It’s a beautiful fantasy world and it’s a great contrast to the realistic themes of the story. The score is overwhelming in a good way, it’ll give you goosebumps at times. The voice acting (I watched the English dub) is wonderful as well, especially from lead voice actress Xanthe Huynh, who delivers a delicately powerful performance as Maquia.
In the end Maquia: When the Promised Flower Blooms is one of my new favorite films. It’s a story that will resonate with anyone who watches it. There’s fantasy, war, motherhood, love, heartbreak – something for everyone. When I started this film I expected to be moved by it. Never could I have expected how much this film would wreck me by the end. I cried through a good portion of the runtime, but the ending had me speechless. I had tears streaming down my face like I was myself, a newborn baby. Fall in love with this film even if it hurts you. Just like Maquia herself, you’ll be better because of the experience.