Rating: 😀 😀 😀 😀 😀 (perfect 5 grins)
I prefer watching episodic anime series rather than anime films, but I must admit that certain anime films have transient beauty that typical anime series can never acquire. One of these gems is an anime film titled Hotarubi no Mori e (蛍火の杜へ) by Midorikawa Yuki (緑川ゆき). You may be familiar with Midorikawa-sensei as the mangaka of Natsume Yuujinchou (夏目友人帳), another favourite series of mine.
I’m already familiar with the film before I actually watched it, so I knew what to expect, but it didn’t deter me from appreciating its simple elegance and bittersweet love story. Believe me when I say this: this movie is BEAUTIFUL!!!
The film starts off in a silent and simple way. One thing that I immediately notice is its focus on nature. The background music is kept to a bare minimum, using the natural forest sounds instead, such as the sound of flowing wind and water, rustling leaves, swaying tree branches, and crying cicadas. And when you do hear background music, its usually just one instrument like piano or what sounds like traditional Japanese instruments. I think that the lack of symphonic background music and the concentration on natural forest sounds emphasize the mysteriousness of the Yamagami no Mori (forest of the mountain god) which is filled with youkai.
Six-year-old Takegawa Hotaru meets a mysterious masked male within the forest. He reveals that he is cursed by the mountain god; that he would disappear when his skin is touched by a human. I was already preparing my heart because I knew that this kind of premise was doomed for tragedy. But man, what a beautiful tragedy this film portrays! When Hotaru introduces herself to this strange male, you can’t ignore the great pause after. You wonder whether this masked male has a name or if he has one, if he would give it to Hotaru. In the end, he gives her his name: Gin. I think that this is the turning point because it symbolizes Gin’s trust to Hotaru and his willingness to befriend a human, even if it’s dangerous to do so because of the curse.
It’s so sweet to watch their relationship develop. Gin waits for Hotaru everyday in front of the shrine. They spend almost everyday together; playing, talking, and just simply being together. My own chest literally ached watching the two of them miss each other when Hotaru has to go away after every summer, and look forward to the beginning of the summer vacations when they would be able to see each other again.
As Hotaru grows into a young woman, so her feelings for Gin develop into love. It’s great to know that Gin returns her feelings, as well. Because she loves him, she makes him promise never to touch her no matter what, so he won’t disappear. I was groaning because I can just feel their desire to touch each other, but they can’t because Gin would disappear. Damn curse! But before I could hate and want to strangle the mountain god who cursed Gin, we learn that the mountain god and the youkai of the forest saved Gin as a baby. Gin was a human when he was born, but when he was abandoned in the forest when he was still an infant, the youkai found and took care of him, and finally the mountain god “cursed” him so that he could live in the forest with the youkai.
You can definitely feel the inevitable tragedy lurking throughout the entire film as you watch Hotaru and Gin yearn for each other whenever they’re apart. My heart just about broke at Hotaru’s monologue:
Gin ni aitai desu. Gin ni furetai desu.
I want to meet Gin. I want to touch him.
I have nothing but praise for the lines in this film. They’re simple, very easy to understand, but they’re packed with emotions. I was like, holy freaking shoot, these lines are genius! And what’s more, Gin is not the talkative type, so every word that comes out of his mouth are guaranteed to be meaningful. He doesn’t directly say it, but you’ll know from the short sentences he speaks that he wouldn’t mind disappearing from the world if it means he and Hotaru get to touch each other. (இ﹏இ`｡)
Then comes the youkai summer festival, where Gin invites Hotaru for a date. Kyaaaah~ So romantic! They tie a piece of cloth around their wrists, so that they can stay together. It’s like holding hands without touching. It’s so sweet, but so sad! It almost escaped me, but I want you to notice the background music during the festival. It’s a typical Japanese festival-like music, but there is an uncomfortable and even frightening sense of doom in it. Listening to it while watching Gin and Hotaru enjoying the festival, I just knew that tragedy would follow. And I was right.
My second-most bittersweet scene is when Gin places his mask on Hotarubi, so that he can kiss her without actually touching. This simple gesture is enough to send me to tears.
But then the inevitable tragedy arrives. A couple of human children pass by and Gin accidentally touches one of them. He begins to disappear. Noooooooooooooooooo!!!! I was banging my fists at this moment, but at the same time, I couldn’t help but admire Gin’s beautiful disintegration. What’s more heart-warming but also heart-breaking is when he opens his arms with a smile on his face, urging Hotaru to finally embrace him before he completely disappears.
Koi, Hotaru! Yatto omae ni furerareru.
Come, Hotaru! I can finally touch you.
Freaking shit, my eyes flooded with tears. I was clutching my chest because it freaking hurt for real; willing Gin not to disappear, but also knowing that it’s the inevitable outcome of the story. And then comes this scene.
I was sobbing all over. Hotarubi joyfully jumps into Gin’s arms, accelerating Gin’s disintegration, until he completely disappears, leaving only his yukata and mask behind. This is the climax and it did an excellent job turning me into a horrible crying mess. Although it was heart-breaking and tragic, I’m still happy that they get to embrace in the end. Gin fulfills his dream of being embraced by a human he loves. It’s also satisfying to hear them clearly confess their love for each other.
Gin: Suki da yo.
Hotaru: E. Watashi mo yo.
Gin: I love you.
Hotaru: Yes. Me, too.
Once again, brilliant lines! Simple and succinct, yet packed with powerful emotions of love. The beautiful background piano music amplifies this heart-breaking climactic scene. Magnificent, just magnificent!
Even though I suffered red and swollen eyes after, I LOVED Hotarubi no Mori e. This is, without a doubt, one of the best, most beautiful and meaningful anime films that I’ve ever watched. The story is not very complicated; it’s very easy to understand, yet the emotions it yanks out of you are powerful. You can’t help but feel the bittersweet tragedy of Gin and Hotaru’s love.
I highly recommend this film! It will make you cry and your chest hurt, but it’s worth it. What are you waiting for? Watch it now! If you already watched it, then watch it again! So beautiful.
Hotarubi no Mori e Film Website (Japanese)
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