Thursday, March 1, 2012

Hotarubi no Mori e

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You’ll be forgiven if you find everything about Hotarubi no Mori e strangely familiar.

When you have a great team, don’t break it up – it’s true in sports, and it’s true in anime.  We’ve seen what the combo of Brain’s Base, Omori Takahiro (Director) and Yoshimori Makoto (Music) can do with the works of mangaka Midorikawa Yuki in almost four superb seasons of Natsume Yuujinchou. The trio has worked their magic on Midorikawa-sensei’s earlier manga Hotarubi no Mori e, and the results are exactly what you’d expect – lovely, wistful, sad, and ultimately a very solid artistic success.

It’s plain to see that “Hotarubi” was a major influence on it’s successor, “Natsume”.  This story could easily have stood as a two-part story from that series, with different characters – in terms of mood and theme, it’s absolutely consistent with the more episodic and heartwarming stories in “Natsume".  Happily, that’s the element of Natsume Yuujinchou I like the best, and one that’s been a little underutilized lately as Brain’s Base have adapted the more plot-heavy and serious chapters from the manga, so this comes as quite a treat for me.  One thing that absolutely strikes me about Midorikawa’s work is how utterly and quintessentially Japanese it is – while the feelings she portrays are universal, the language of the heart, eye and ear are thoroughly grounded in the traditions and legends of her homeland.  If you enjoy that aspect of Japanese culture – and it would be an understatement to say I’m obsessed with it – you’ll probably love this film as much as I did.

The story here is very simple and straightforward.  A young girl, Hotaru (Sakura Ayane) gets lost in the forest near her Uncle’s house in the country.  She’s helped out of her jam by an odd teenaged boy wearing a cat mask, Gin (Uchiyama Kouki).  Gin helps her find her way home, but there’s a catch – she can’t touch him.  That doesn’t stop her from repeatedly trying – and getting a whack on the head for her efforts – but if Gin is touched by a human, he’ll disappear.  He tells Hotaru that this is because of a curse that was placed on him by the Mountain God, whose forest this is.  It’s not at all difficult to tell where the story is going to go from here – Hotaru will return to the forest over and over every summer to play with Gin, and as she grows (and he doesn’t) they will slowly and surely begin to fall in love with each other.

Predictability is not a bad thing in this case, because it leads to some wonderful fantasy slice-of-life as only Midorikawa and Omori-san can deliver it, set to Yoshimori-san’s wonderful soundtrack (he only works on great anime).  Gin is reminiscent of Natsume in many ways – kind, gentle, fragile (even Uchiyama’s performance evokes a younger Kamiya Hiroshi) – but with a difference.  Rather than see the spirit world, he’s a part of it.  There’s more to his story than that, of course, including the reason he wears that mask.  But the best parts of the story come from simply watching Hotaru and Gin spend time together exploring the forest (whose youkai inhabitants adore him and worry for him), attending festivals, and growing to love each other.  There are wonderful little touches, like the lion dancer at the youkai summer matsuri being a lion spirit with a human costume, and the moment when Gin uses his mask in a unique way to show Hotaru how he feels - one of the sweetest I can remember.

I won’t spoil the ending , but again I’ll say it fits very nicely into the philosophy that also drives Natsume Yuujinchou.  With Mirodikawa it’s always about choices – the choices we make to open our hearts and accept what comes with it, or to remain closed and pay a different price.  Midorikawa-san is a real visionary – her worldview is unique, full of optimism and an urge to accept all the wonders of the universe, but also an understanding about the pain that only comes from opening your heart to others.  If you boiled the whole of what Natsume Yuujinchou means down to it’s essence, a concentrated form, you’d have something like Hotarubi no Mori e – proto-Midorikawa, if you will.  It’s also an absolutely lovely movie to see, with the same soft watercolor style so reminiscent of E.H. Shepard, elevated to new heights with the benefit of a feature budget.  Uchiyama and Ayane are excellent - it’s a pleasure to hear two very young seiyuu who aren’t household names deliver fine performances in a feature film.  Brain’s Base is steadily building it’s case as arguably the finest anime studio in the business, and this excellent effort will only bolster it.

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24 comments:

  1. I have not seen the movie yet (although I have it downloaded ready to watch whenever I have the chance) but I read the short manga story awhile ago and fell completely in love.

    From your screencaps it definitely seems like a few scenes were added (but it was a really short story so I guess that is understandable).

    I certainly hope this gets licensed in the US (actually it would be a great extra with the NISA Natsume sets).

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  2. I haven't seen the movie but I remember I read the manga (it was short) it is based on It was the time I had just discovered Natsume b4 it was animated. The author also has a manga called the scarlet chair that I haven't finished reading :P it was her first manga I read even b4 Natsume Yojin Cho, but it wasn't complete then and the story was too complicated that I always needed to reread the whole thing every time a new chapter was on cuz every detail was important. ANyways I can't wait to watch this anime movie cuz I just love any work from from that mangaka and the group that brought us one of my top favorite anime of all time Natsume!!! thx for reviewing the movie :D

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  3. Argh. Hopefully when you said you won't spoil the ending. You were not referring to the last set of pictures.

    Now where can i find this heart wrenching show?

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  4. I will say just as the manga did for me the movie had me balling...
    I read the oneshot after discovering Natsume.
    I remembered reading Natsume about the story of the tiny man. (I think this was even the first episode of Natsume) He had an old woman as a friend who would pray on his behalf and when the old lady passed away the tiny man disappeared; I remembered I was crying. That story brought a nostalgic feeling from that movie at the end.
    You are right this story correlated to Nastume heck this could of been an episode too! However, I was happy/fangirl excited this oneshot was made into a special. I enjoyed the little girl and Gin; I could not forget about those two after reading the oneshot. This manga artist has a masterpiece with her story-telling, including her art. This oneshot special really was great so thanks for posting this.

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  5. Heh, as always you have quite a way putting things Enzo, great read. I thought this managed to encapsulate the best aspects of Natsume in one package. It's interesting to me that the mangaka said she disliked making these sorts of thing, romance that is, because I felt she did such a great job at it haha. She's definitely a cut above a lot of people at story telling.

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  6. Hmmm... gotta watch this (and Natsume too) since I only hear praise for it. And Enzo, it seems you like slice of life a lot, around the same as I do, yet there's one major series you're missing. :(

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    1. I can think of more than one. Which did you have in mind?

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    2. Hehehe forgive me for repeating myself: Aria.

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  7. I love your blog so much because of this post (and all of the others, but mostly this, lol).

    I watched this yesterday and it was so beautiful but it almost killed my worn out CPU. XD

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    1. LOL, thanks Stereoman - and my condolences for your near-loss.

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  8. I watched it after seeing this post and I fell in love with it! The animation plus the music was beautiful and the story was simple and very heartwarming. I think I might as well start watching the Natsume series because of this. :)

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  9. I watched it after seeing this post and I fell in love with it! The animation plus the music was beautiful and the story was simple and very heartwarming. I think I might as well start watching the Natsume series because of this. :)

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  10. If you like this, pretty much zero chance you won't like Natsume.

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  11. "...and the moment when Gin uses his mask in a unique way to show Hotaru how he feels - one of the sweetest I can remember."

    I was already expecting that they would kiss, but the way they did it - I melted.

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  12. I totally agree with everything you said -- I adore Natsume Yuujinchou so it's no surprise that I absolutely loved Hotarubi no Mori e as well. I tried bracing myself for the ending but I couldn't help but start bawling when it came. :( And if possible it would be wonderful if you posted this on Random Curiosity, too! The movie is such a gem that really doesn't deserve to go unnoticed.

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  13. This was an absolutely beautiful Anime. It was so good I felt bad I downloaded it... I hope some official DVD with English subs would come out soon so I can purchase this.

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  14. Its been awhile since I've commented being busy with school and all. Enzo today I had a good/bad day I was worried my good day was going to end on a bad note but this film really touched me. I knew what to expect when I saw this and your right it has that episodic feeling of natsume yuujinchou I loved gin and hotaru. I felt her sadness in the end but wow gin love for her was truly felt in that small moment with the mask. Overall this is a good way to end my day. *now back to school work -_-*
    The meaning of how you spent your time together is what is important and the fact that your were loved and you loved back is what this movie was all about.

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  15. And that's pretty much the overall message from the bittersweet mind of Midorikawa-sensei...

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  16. I completely forgot about due to all my excitement about the PS Vita. When I was catching up with Natsume 9 & 10 I suddenly remembered Hotarubi would be released at the end of February and I immediately paused Natsume 10 to watch it.

    And hah, didn't I tell you, it's a lot like Natsume! (I still believe she got the idea to write Natsume after doing this one shot) I've got to admit that, while I found the anime very beautiful, I was a bit disappointed that they change the art style quite a bit. I loved the style of the manga, especially Gin's foxy eyes. 8) I very much enjoyed all the added scenes a lot and you are right, the music was superb! I was quite disappointed with the ending tho, I prefer then abrupt end of the manga a lot more, I dunno, it has more impact on me each time I read the story. But I am really glad they made this anime masterpiece. Hopefully this gets localised, I'd very much like to add this to my blu-ray collection. :)

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  17. After being busy few weeks ago, finally I can comment on Hotarubi movie. As a prototype/predecessor to Natsume Yuujinchou, this short but sweet story has been well adapted by Brains Base&I couldn't be more happy to see Hotaru and Gin being animated this beautifully. For me, Hotarubi will always be a beautiful sweet-short story that manage to be memorable&stuck into your heart despite it's simple premise/theme, just like To Aru Hikushi was. These 2 movies are such underrated gems among many other titles that comes out last year.

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  18. the ending!!! it's so sad!!!
    why couldn't they be......*cries*
    i love this film soo much!
    No wonder I felt like I had a few moments of deja vu.
    Being able to meet only for a certain season... reminded me of the spirit and human who was only able to meet in spring due to the cover of sakura (one of Natsume's seasons... if only if I can remember which was it...)
    And the concept of a never-aging-man... hmm... reminded me of 'Absolute Boyfriend'... in more than a few ways...
    AND... the concept of two lovers unable to touch one another... reminded me of another japanese media (damn memory... i want to remember it), if it is English media it is 'Pushing Daisies'...
    i woke my sister up at that kissing scene... OMG!! kyahh!!!
    I love this film soo much!!!
    Thanks for the great review of it!!

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    1. You're welcome, thanks for the comment!

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  19. Hotaru as a kid was so incredible cute, especially when she was whacked and was rolling on the ground holding her big head.

    As for the ending, i envy characters who like Hotaru can accept such a loss, let go and move on.

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