You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Film Review: ‘Maquia: When the Promised Flower Blooms’

The directorial debut of writer Mari Okada is a stirring, sentimental, stunning-looking fantasy epic about motherhood, prejudice, and aging.

Mari Okada
Manaka Iwami, Miyu Irino, Yoko Hikasa, Hiroaki Hirata, Yoshimasa Hosoya, Yuki Kaji, Ai Kayano. (Japanese dialogue)
Release Date:
Jul 20, 2018

1 hour 55 minutes

“I won’t cry, I promise,” vows the ethereal, long-living Maquia (voiced by Manaka Iwami) to the little mortal boy she is raising as her son. “I’m a mother!” she says, beating her fist lightly against her belly in a gesture of defiance that makes the boy smile. But mother or no, it’s a promise any viewer of this gorgeously rendered, acutely sentimental animated phantasmagoria would be foolhardy to make.

“Maquia: When the Promised Flower Blooms” is the directorial debut of prolific and successful anime screenwriter Mari Okada (“Anohana: The Flower We Saw That Day”), and though set in a medieval-styled, distinctly “Game of Thrones”-esque fantasy world of dying dragons, imprisoned princesses, warring kingdoms, and mystical cloth into which is woven the stories of our lives, the trembling, overflowing heart of the film is a story of motherhood, self-sacrifice, and forgiveness that is informed by Okada’s own fraught relationship with her mother. It is exquisite in every way — sometimes almost too exquisite in its precious sensitivity to the hardships of life as an outcast single mother — but against such intricate magic-hour backdrops, the only thing not beautiful here is the ugly-cry its devastating, happy-sad finale induces.

Maquia is a timid 15-year-old hailing from the Clan of the Separated, AKA the Iolph, an ancient enclave of blond-haired mystics who weave Hibiol, a fine, translucent cloth that marks the passage of time and contains messages only other Iolph can read. They are also blessed/cursed with extreme longevity, and Maquia, at 15, is as old as she is ever going to look. Lonely despite her friendship with the beautiful, adventurous Leilia (Ai Kayano), Maquia is cautioned by the tribal Elder that she will be lonelier still if she ever falls in love with an outsider, as she will be destined to vastly outlive her partner.

In another film, from a different storytelling tradition, perhaps, this would cue up some tragic love affair. But when the Iolph settlement is attacked by armored soldiers from the nearby kingdom of Mezarte riding ferocious flying dragons, and Maquia accidentally ends up miles from home with no way back, it’s not a romantic interest she encounters but a squalling baby, still clutched in his dead mother’s arms. Maquia resolves to raise him, though she’s still a child herself, and calls him Eriel (Yuuki Sakurai).

The first half of the film mostly deals with the hardships Maquia faces as a child-mother, though she’s befriended by kind young widow Mido (Rina Sato) who is raising two little boys of her own, who become Eriel’s playmates. But this idyllic interlude must end, as the villagers are beginning to note with suspicion that while Eriel is growing into a normal, rambunctious kid, Maquia (her telltale blonde hair dyed red) stays as youthful as she was when they arrived. And so the pair settle into a rhythm of moving every few years, sustained by mutual devotion that is only really tested when Eriel reaches those difficult teen years, begins to understand that Maquia is not his “real” mother and now has to pretend they are brother and sister instead.

At times, Maquia can be a little too drippy a character to really invest in. One can grow a little impatient with the close-ups on her expressions of puzzlement, her naive enormous eyes, non-existent nose, and tiny, tremulous chin. But if at times the prettiness of the film’s core message about motherly sacrifice becomes a bit cloying, there are surprisingly rich subplots that add life and texture. In particular, a parallel story unfolds about Leilia, kidnapped during that same attack and forced to marry the Prince of Mezarte in the belief their children will have the Iolph longevity. Her captivity is echoed in the story of the dragons, themselves the last remnants of a once-proud race who have dwindled in numbers having been, essentially, enslaved by the Mezarte warriors. It amounts to some cunningly persuasive commentary on the exploitation and subjugation of other races by colonizing powers, as well as a critique of internecine warfare which is particularly provocative given Japan’s thorny history of militarism.

And of course, those bellicose, masculine ideals provide neat counterpoint to the nurturing, yielding yet tenacious womanhood that is glorified here, in artwork so sumptuous, under a recurring musical theme (from Kenji Kawaii) so epic that it sweeps us through the more shamelessly manipulative moments. Indeed, it’s possible that the film’s passing pleasures are so rich that we don’t even notice how deep Okada has driven her storytelling dagger until she pulls it out in the end, and the tears come, adding, to the bitterness and sweetness of this moving and strange little fable, a hefty dose of salt.

Film Review: 'Maquia: When the Promised Flower Blooms'

Reviewed online, Berlin, July 20th, 2018. (In Annecy Animation Film Festival.) Running Time: 115 MIN. (Original title: "Sayonara no asa ni yakusoku no hana o kazarô")

Production: (Animation — Japan) An Eleven Arts release of a P.A. Works, Bandai Visual, Cygames, Hakuhodo DY Music & Pictures, Lantis production. (International sales: Hakuhodo DY Music & Pictures, Tokyo.) Producers: Naoko Endo, Kenji Horikawa, Hirohisa Kikuchi, Tomomi Kyotani, Nobuhiro Takenaka.

Crew: Director, screenplay: Mari Okada. Camera (color): Satoshi Namiki. Editor: Ayumu Takahashi. Music: Kenji Kawai.

With: Manaka Iwami, Miyu Irino, Yoko Hikasa, Hiroaki Hirata, Yoshimasa Hosoya, Yuki Kaji, Ai Kayano. (Japanese dialogue)

More Film

  • Nicole Kidman Meryl Streep

    Meryl Streep, Nicole Kidman to Star in Ryan Murphy's 'The Prom' at Netflix

    Ryan Murphy enlisted a star-studded cast for his upcoming Netflix movie “The Prom,” an adaptation of the Tony-nominated Broadway musical. Meryl Streep, Nicole Kidman, Awkwafina, James Corden, Ariana Grande, Keegan-Michael Key and Andrew Rannells are among the A-listers bringing “The Prom” to screens. “The Prom” follows a lesbian student in the fictional conservative town of [...]

  • Viktor Dvorak, Anna Geislerova Join Vaclav

    Viktor Dvorak, Anna Geislerova Join Václav Havel Biopic

    Viktor Dvorak has been cast in “Havel,” a biopic of Václav Havel, as the Czech playwright, dissident and national leader. Anna Geislerova, who starred in Oscar nominated “Zelary,” plays his wife, Olga Havlova. Jiri Bartoska, the president of Karlovy Vary Film Festival, will appear in the film as “Professor,” inspired by Czech philosopher Jan Patocka. [...]

  • Daniel Craig

    'Bond 25' First Footage Sees Daniel Craig Back as 007

    After suffering a series of setbacks, including finding a new director and Daniel Craig’s on-set injury, “Bond 25” production is officially underway. A new behind-the-scenes clip of the upcoming James Bond film features Craig and helmer Cary Joji Fukunaga at work in the Caribbean. The minute-long footage didn’t reveal much about the still-untitled movie, though [...]

  • (L to R) Marco Graf as

    ‘Roma,’ ‘The Good Girls’ Top Mexico’s Ariel Academy Awards

    The Mexican Academy of Arts and Cinematographic Sciences hosted the 61st edition of their Ariel Awards on Monday evening, where Alfonso Cuarón’s “Roma” and Alejandra Márquez Abella’s “The Good Girls” stood out among the winners. Perhaps the most surprising thing about Cuarón’s “Roma” scooping best picture is that it’s only the second of his films to [...]

  • The Eight Hundred (The 800)

    Already Pulled From Shanghai Festival, 'The Eight Hundred' Cancels Its China Release

    Already pulled from its prestigious spot as the opener of the Shanghai International Film Festival, war epic “The Eight Hundred” has been dealt a further below with the cancellation of its scheduled release in China next week. In a terse announcement on its official Weibo account, the film said late Tuesday that, “after consultation between [...]

  • Méndez Esparza, Fernando Franco, Villaronga Projects

    Projects By Mendez Esparza, Fernando Franco and Villaronga at Small Is Biutiful

    Antonio Méndez Esparza’s “Que nadie duerma,” Fernando Franco’s “La consagración de la primavera” and Agustí Villaronga’s “3.000 obstáculos” figure among the seven projects to be pitched at Paris’ Small Is Biutiful forum. The closing event for the alternative Spanish film festival Dífferent 12!, Small Is Biutiful takes place June 26, bringing together French distributors and [...]

  • Judi Dench

    Judi Dench Says Works by Harvey Weinstein, Kevin Spacey Should Be Respected

    Veteran British star Judi Dench has said that the work produced by Harvey Weinstein and Kevin Spacey should be separated from the offenses they are alleged to have committed. Both Weinstein and Spacey face charges of sexual assault in the U.S., which they deny, and have been investigated in other jurisdictions as well, including Britain. [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content