UK Release Date: 27th June 2018
Runtime: 114 minutes
Director: Mari Okada
Writer: Mari Okada
Starring: Manaka Iwami, Miyu Irino, Ai Kayano, Rina Satō, Yoshimasa Hosoya, Miyuki Sawashiro
Synopsis: Separated from her clan, an immortal young woman brings up an orphaned child and is forced to watch him grow and age as she remains exactly the same.
The current boom for exciting and innovative anime has almost been waiting for a movie like Maquia: When the Promised Flower Blooms. It’s a gargantuan epic, spanning generations of time and taking in everything from immortal beings to soaring dragons and sweeping, bloody battle sequences. This film, the debut from writer-director Mari Okada, cannot be faulted for its ambition, visually as well as narratively. However, it becomes somewhat mired in the complexity of its own mythos and struggles for the kind of hardcore emotion that powers the best dramatic anime movies, including Makoto Shinkai‘s recent masterpiece Your Name.
The title character (Manaka Iwami) is an Iorph. Her clan is one of eternal teenagers who are weavers, carrying out spiritual duties away from the land of men. A group of greedy assailants attack their village and the Iorph are either killed, kidnapped or scattered during the onslaught. Maquia flees and happens upon an orphaned child called Ariel (Miyu Irino), whom she decides to raise as her own. As the years go by, the duo are forced to move from place to place in order to conceal Maquia’s immortality, as Ariel grows up and becomes an adult.
Visually, Maquia is a cut above even the most beautiful recent anime adventures. Every frame is jaw-dropping in its beauty, from the cramped environs of a modest home within a polluted city to the pearlescent purity of the Iorph homeland. Okada’s world is one that is exceptionally well-realised on a visual level, but that degree of world building is never given to the story, which is driven by people randomly bumping into each other whenever the convenience of the plot demands it.
The dialogue is dense with fantasy mumbo-jumbo from the first moments and it’s almost impossible to keep track of the machinations of how these various races co-exist. This is a story about the passage of time and the enormity of loneliness, but there’s never a sense of that in the story. Time simply passes as the leaden, overlong film progresses, but the movie isn’t able to communicate the pain that time is causing to its protagonist. As much as the movie demands that the audience feel grand emotion, the story never reaches the heights necessary to pull at the heartstrings successfully.
Maquia is an enormous swing of a movie, but it’s also one that misses the target by miles. It’s undeniably a grand epic, but it’s also a tedious one, lacking the storytelling skill and flair to match up to its sumptuous visual treats. When compared to the likes of Your Name and this year’s excellent Mary and the Witch’s Flower, this feels like a minor entry in the canon of recent anime.
Pop or Poop?
The ambition of newbie director Mari Okada is in full effect with debut feature Maquia: When the Promised Flower Blooms, which is a massive undertaking that spans generations and geography with its mammoth story. Unfortunately, it’s also a rather dull experience that never gets under the skin of its characters and, as a result, is nothing more than a visually impressive chore.
Do you agree with my review? Let me know in the comments section.