THE thought of out-living one of your children is something many parents dare not contemplate. An event that cruelly goes against the gentle generation-to-generation current of life.
In Mari Okada’s debut feature, Maquia: When the Promised Flower Blooms, mythical forces mean this paternal fear will almost certainly be actualised. The confrontation of such a harsh occurrence leaves the door open to an exploration of family, responsibility and legacy in a wondrous animation to rival last year’s hit anime Your Name.
Okada’s film begins in an idyllic, heavenly setting inhabited by a clan of people named the lolf. These mythical people stop ageing in their mid-teens and spend the majority of their time weaving traditional fabrics.
The lolf’s passive lifestyle and intrinsic innocence means they are prime targets for attack from the Mezarte, a conquering country led by a Tudor-style monarch. The Mezarte use the might of their red-eyed dragons to overwhelm the lolf and kidnap Leilia, a beautiful girl whom the King of Mezarte intends on forcing into their bloodline to strengthen their grip on this world.
Yet it is not Leilia’s captive story that we follow with most interest. Amidst the panic of the Mezarte invasion a lonely young lolf girl named Maquia gets dragged away from her home by a red-eyed dragon and is dropped in an unfamiliar forested area far, far away from her ransacked home.
It is here in the forest where Maquia finds an orphan child in the arms of her murdered mother. Alone and frightened, Maquia goes against prior advice not to risk falling in love as she decides to rescue the child – who she names Erial – and start a new life in a local rural village. Okada’s film follows the joys and hardships Maquia experiences as motherhood is thrust upon her.
Okada constructs a beautifully immersive and detailed world without it ever feeling visually over-indulgent or narratively overwhelming. It is well-layered fantasy that finds space for humble, Miyakazian rural delights as well as bloody battles and the drama of a disrupted grand royal wedding.
All of these Game of Thrones-esque elements are sweetly woven together with the type of emotional beats we might expect from Pixar. Most resonantly, a sequence involving the death of a family dog. Maquia’s subsequent realisation that she will outlive Erial is particularly emotive.
Above all else, Maquia and her adopted son remain the heartbeat of the film. The mother-son relationship takes a number of interesting turns, especially as Erial grows up into a young man who looks the same age, if not older, than his mother. The two have to come to terms with their changing roles, made even more difficult when friends of Erial confuse Maquia for his eloped lover.
The only minor complaint would be a slightly dragging final act that has as many false endings as Lord of the Rings: Return of the King. But it is not enough to spoil a delightfully captivating animation.
This is stunning work from Okada whose own troubled upbringing remains pertinent in her work.
Maquia is a rich film with something for everyone to cling onto. Watch and be submerged in the vivid and elaborate fantasy world that Okada has created.
Maquia: When the Promised Flower Blooms arrives in UK cinemas 27 June
This review was 3/30 in the Close-up Culture Monthly Film Challenge – Female Filmmakers.