Maquia: When the Promised Flower Blooms, which recently screened at Fantasia 2018, is probably one of the most beautiful films you’ll see and the most heartbreaking.
The film centers on Maquia (Manaka Iwami) and her “son,” Eriel (Miyu Irino). Maquia is part of an immortal tribe who stop aging in their teens. Her clan will probably remind you of the elves from The Lord of the Rings. This tribe is attacked by an army who kidnap her friend, Leilia (Ai Kayano), a woman of immense beauty. The army wants her tribe’s immortality, and after the devastation they have wrought, Maquia stumbles upon another attacked village. There, she finds a crying baby lying underneath its dead mother’s arms. That baby is Eriel.
At the heart of Maquia: When the Promised Flower Blooms is an examination of motherhood. Mari Okada, the writer and director, has upset mothers in Japan with this film. Most have been disturbed by the concept of an immortal mother capable of living long enough to see her son die.
The mother-son dynamic between Maquia and Eriel is tenuous. Maquia is forever on the run from the same army that destroyed her people. This causes her and her son to be outcasts. In this respect, the exploration of immortality and its drawbacks is fascinating. On the one hand, you get to live forever. On the other, you also die alone, which is a distinct warning given to Maquia by her elder, “if [she] falls in love, then she will die alone.”
While Maquia raises her son, she struggles between what makes a good mother and what doesn’t, such as whether a mother should cry in front of their child. Eriel, while a brat, is understandably disgusted and put off by his “mother” as he grows older. Imagine, your attractive mom has to be your attractive sister because your friends won’t believe it’s your mother. Imagine that you’re never able to settle down because your mother is continually on the lamb. Much of the film is us settling on a period in Eriel’s life, then skipping ahead as he ages. We see him transition from a devotional love for his mother to a putrid hatred of her invincibility. Though Maquia is tiny, slender, and gentle, immortality is a type of invincibility. Eriel, who promises to protect his mother is never able to overcome that fact. How do you protect someone who’s immortal? It emasculates him, and he returns in kind with fear and anger.
By contrast, Leilia, who’s been captured by the previously mentioned invading army and made to mate with the prince to produce immortal heirs is a prisoner. Upon birth, her daughter is taken away from her. And in a way, while Maquia experiences an abundance of motherhood, Leilia is zapped of it. She’s never able to raise her daughter, and though she rarely sets eyes on her, she still loves her. That natural maternal love is at the center of Okada’s film. It’s the nature and the nurture. That is, Leilia is the natural love for one’s offspring, while Maquia demonstrates a love acquired through nurturing (even if the one you’re nurturing isn’t your direct offspring).
But mostly, Maquia: When the Promised Flower Blooms is a stunningly beautiful film. It combines both computer graphics with hand-drawn animation. The quality of both is so immaculate that they seamlessly blend into each other. Many of the scapes, such as clouds, the deep blue sky, and the cities themselves are stunning. They have the appearance of the best 4k-television screen you’ve ever seen.
And while Maquia: When the Promised Flower Blooms does drag as it tussles far too often between the squabbles of Maquia and Eriel and examines the downfall of supernatural beings, it still retains the ability to captivate the eye. Seriously, the supernatural story line is like a handing off to the “Age of Man” as magical beings fall away and industrialized cities take hold. Nevertheless, it’s the final twenty minutes that will capture your ever-deep well of tears and drain them. The final moments between Maquia and Eriel are touchingly beautiful, yet a confirmation of every nightmare you’ve ever had. It’s sweet to the point of ugly crying bittersweetness, and it makes the build up of their relationship worth it. Go into this film knowing that there’s a feel train that’s about to hit you, and you might be alright.