Moderator / Reviewer
- Apr 4, 2017
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Maquia: When the Promised Flower Blooms
I’m always pleased to see more Anime come from Shout Factory, but I am even more pleased at the fact that this latest one is not another Masaaki Yuasa film, or something from Studio Ghibli (not that either of those is a negative thing, I just have been wishing for a little bit more variety from the boutique studio, and variation is the spice of life). I had heard absolutely fantastic things about Mari Okada’s latest film, and have always been a fan of hers considering that she is able to hold an unprecedented amount of creative control over her works (it’s kind of a thing of legend that she has so much artistic control, especially in a world where very few Anime directors/writers that are women exist), and due to the fact that this was labeled as her best film yet. HOWEOVER, much of her success has been with writing for dozens of Anime series, and she had only directed 3 small short films, so the leap away from TV and into feature film making is new territory for the legendary writer. Maquia: When the Promised Flower Blooms is nothing short of breathtaking though. A classic fantasy tale on the outside, but a wide sweeping allegory on the other hand, delving into the pain and suffering of single mothers, the true meaning of love and parenthood, and elements of bigotry and the evil tendencies of man blended into one jaw dropping tale.
Maquia (Manaka Iwami) is part of a legendary race of long lived Elvin type beings who are known as the departed tribe. They are blessed/cursed with incredibly long life, spanning hundreds of years, which allows them to peaceably record the passing of time and weave into intricate cloth that tells the history of the world. A young girl of 15 years old (which is barely a newborn for these “lorph”, as they are known), Maquia is shyly poking her nose into what it means to be one of her kind, when the nation of the Mezzate (humans riding ancient enslaved dragons) come for the females of the lorph tribe. It seems that the king of the Mezzate wants to breed lorph blood into his bloodline so that their next generation of children will be long lived like the peaceful Elvin beings. The place ransacked and everyone slaughtered, the only one seemingly left behind is Maquia, who only escaped due to the fact that a rampaging dragon carried her off by accident.
When she wakes up, Maquia realizes that there is no going back. Her home is gone and the only thing she has left is survival. Barely able to get up and get moving, The young lorph child sees a hut that was beset upon by bandits. Inside is a young human baby that is clinging to it’s dead mother. Filled with compassion Maquia picks up the child as her own and does her best to raise it as any natural mother would. As you could guess, Maquia is cursed with her long age and never aging features, so the only way to keep her young child (whom she named Ariel) safe is to move around every few years. As Ariel grows up they have to shift the narrative of their relationship, moving from mother, to siblings as Maquia keeps her disguise in check. Especially with the Mezzate king looking for more lorph to breed with his son, as their initial experiments have failed.
Maquia herself is a fascinating character enough as it is, and you truly get invested in her life’s journey. It’s painful to watch at times, with the Ariel and Maquia struggling to make ends meet, and when Ariel goes through his rebellious phase you feel the agony of the young (at least seemingly so) mother as she just wants to love and protect her “son” only to be held at arms length by the typical stupidity of a teenager. However, there are several underlying story lines that go on simultaneously that keep the story from being JUST melodrama about Maquia. There’s a sub story about the Mezzate empire and the cruelty and bigotry they bestow upon the lorph and other beings. The Mezzate kingdom is the epitome of a group of humans who have gone too far with their search of power. They enslaved an entire race of proud dragons, who are now dying out from living in captivity, just so that they can show their might to the rest of humanity and keep their power center. The same thing was done with the lorph. Breeding them into their royal bloodline is used entirely as a power ploy, using the poor Elves to create dominance in their royal blood line, and it’s not until it’s too late that they see their own arrogance will be their own destruction. There’s also another sub plot about the surviving few lorph looking to break Maquia and the new “princess of Mezzate” out, and watching what was once a peaceful people delve into vicious revenge and hatred for what happened to them. For all of it’s epic story telling, Maquia is a very light and smooth sailing watch. I honestly didn’t realize how deep the dagger that is investment into the main story was until that dagger is ripped out for the quintessential ending, leaving the audience with this shocked sense of agony and tearful joy at what we knew was coming. You know what's going to happen from the get go, and I thought I was prepared for it (and from what I gather online, I’m not the only person who misjudged being prepared for the bittersweet ending), but still I feel like I just got sucker punched. It’s probably one of the most intensely emotional endings for an Anime that I’ve ever seen, and it was handled PERFECTLY. That scene with Maquia saying “I’m not going to cry, a mother doesn’t cry” to Ariel in an effort to be the strong and loving parent come full circle at the end, and just hits you straight in the center of your heart. When I say it’s the perfect ending for the film, it truly is, as Okada didn’t try to make it overly dramatic, or make some big speech, but allows it to end completely organically and was so expertly handled that I actually appreciated it a second time around even more (and cried even harder).
Not Rated by the MPAA
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Maquia: When the Promised Flower Blooms is a completely earnest, completely lovely, and completely amazing film. I wrestled VERY strongly about giving the film a 5/5 rating, but in the end settled down on a 4.5/5 just due to the fact that there are some slow parts during the 2nd act of the nearly 2 hour long film. However, that final act (especially the last 20 minutes) is a work of art and I give the film both thumbs up with unabashed excitement due to how well they stuck the landing. Okada’s themes of love, sacrifice and bigotry are interwoven so delicately that they don’t ever take precedence over anything else in the film, and by the time the end comes you realized that you’ve been completely drawn into the low key world of an accidental mother raising a young child (the film spans about 70 years or so, and the movie does such a great job of shifting from one decade to the other that you almost don’t notice the changes). Yes, you will most likely cry at the ending (it’s almost impossible not to, especially if you're a parent), but it’s such an exquisitely done fantasy/drama that I have to recommend this one unequivocally. Audio and video are absolutely amazing, with the only weak link in the chain being the minimal extras. Still, a must buy.
Starring: Manaka Iwami, Miyu Irino, Yoko Hikasa, Hiroaka Hirata, Yoshimasa Hosoya, Yuki Kaji, Ai Kayano, Misaki Kuno, Rina Sato
Directed by: Mari Okada,
Written by: Mari Okada
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1, AVC
Audio: English: DTS-HD MA 5.1, Japanese DTS-HD MA 5.1
Studio: Shout Factory
Runtime: 115 Minutes
Blu-ray Release Date: February 5th, 2019
Recommendation: Must Watch