A Beautiful Yet Tragic Tale of Love in “Hotarubi no Mori e”

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.

hotarubi no mori e-poster

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.
ギンに会いたいです。ギンに触れたいです。
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.

My heart sang and cried at the same time.
My heart sang and cried at the same time.

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.

come here-hotarubi no mori e

Koi, Hotaru! Yatto omae ni furerareru.
来い、蛍!やっとお前に触れられる。
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.

A fleeting moment together remains forever in memories and in the heart.
A fleeting moment together remains forever in memories and in the heart.

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.
ギン:好きだよ。
蛍:え。私もよ。
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.

Links:
Hotarubi no Mori e Film Website (Japanese)


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27 thoughts on “A Beautiful Yet Tragic Tale of Love in “Hotarubi no Mori e””

  1. Man… reading your post made me cry again… i knew i was gonna cry but didnt expect my heart to hurt again so much!

    I agree, am usually not a fan of sad / tragic endings, cuz am a crier… and even thou I knew what was coming I still watched it… and sobbed so much I looked like a mess… >.<

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Aaaaaw. That’s one of the greatest reactions I’ve ever received for this post. Thank you! Indeed, rewatching this film or just remembering it is enough to make cry too. It makes us look like a mess, but it’s still so beautiful that it makes it okay, I think. Thank you very much for dropping by and sharing your experience with this film. I’m delighted. Cheers!

      Liked by 1 person

    1. I wish there’s five grinning while smiling faces emoticon that I can use with this kind of anime. Indeed, very beautiful animation. Very fit to a beautiful love story like this. Thanks for dropping by. I appreciate it. Cheers!

      Like

  2. I did have tears at the part Gin disappeared but I wouldn’t say I cried. I did find it very sad though.
    I think it’s because I’ve been spoiled the ending before I started watching it so it kind of ruined the feels for me.
    But to think the boy was a human being, that was such a tragic moment T-T

    Like

    1. Aw. I thought it was heartbreaking. I already knew that it was a tragedy, but I still sobbed when I watched it. Perhaps it’s because I’m more easily affected by sad scenes than you? I don’t know. You’re pretty tough.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Hey Arria, this film sounds really good. I like anime that focusses on scenery and environments like “Garden of Words”, which I think is the most visually beautiful anime I’ve seen.

    By the way you can add “Warning: Contains Spoilers!” in your title or subtitle so people know you’re describing key plot details, and inside your post you could put “Spoiler! >>” on certain paragraphs so people can scroll past if they want to. I’ve seen people do that in their film reviews 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hello Polly. It is a really good film. I haven’t watched “Garden of Words” yet, but I hear good things about it. I don’t watch a lot of anime films, but when I do, I want them to be great to justify my time. When you’re ready, I suggest you watch “Hotarubi no Mori e”. It’s beautiful.

      Indeed, other people use the “Spoiler” tag but I don’t like using it. Perhaps it’s me, but when I see that “Spoiler” tag in a post, I quickly lose interest. That’s why I don’t like using it. Anyway, thank you very much for dropping by and taking the time to share your comment. Keep on blogging, too. Cheers!

      Like

  4. I’ve watched it. And I was like “Gin-san? Gin-san! GIN-SAAAAN!!!!” Why????? Why did you disappear????? You just held a random kid’s hand and……

    HUUUAAAAA T____T

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I know how you feel. I was sobbing like a baby when Gin disappeared. But even if it’s sad, I’m satisfied with the ending because the film did a great job in establishing the love story between Gin & Hotaru.

      Like

      1. Yes…
        But I always want an even happier ending. I can’t live like this!!! I can’t leave them like thaaaaat huaaaaaaaa tears flooding

        Liked by 1 person

  5. Sounds very good. I hope I can see it somewhere. Despite the spoiler in the title of your post : )
    If I do not want to buy the blu-ray, is there another place I can see it?

    Re: series vs movies. If I had to choose one, I would go for movies as there has to be some type of ending or conclusion to a film, even if it is not a happy ending or the ending you would want too see.
    Too many anime series take 24 episodes, set up a good story, then never wrap it up. I’m a broken record.

    Like

    1. It is good, if you’re into love stories that are tragic. You’ll basically know everything about the movie from my posts. (evil grin) Hmmm. I’m not sure where else you can watch this, though. Try searching it.

      I see. I think you’ve watched too many “dropped” anime series. Those series that never got the funding and support to continue adapting the manga. As for me, I prefer series with a TON of episodes. 😉
      Which other anime films did you like?

      Like

      1. Regarding the movies, I would say any of the Miyazaki/Studio Ghibli are all among my favorites, like most people…

        However, the films of Mamoru Hosada would have to be my all-time favorites:

        “The Girl Who Leapt Through Time” changed the way I watch anime. I only watch anime in Japanese with English subtitles now, to get a better feel for the emotions of the film. Yes, the movie changed my life (also introduced me to Hanko Oku)

        Also, his “Summer Wars” is also one of my favorites. He also directed the first Digimon movie (I think that was his first time as director). My son loved Digimon-The Movie. I only saw a part of it, but you could see how it would influence the drawings in TGWLTT and SW.

        His recent “Wolf Children” movie makes me angry at Hollywood. Hollywood studios have all this money and they cannot create anything half as compelling as “Wolf Children”. Actually, if you talk to a non-anime fan, they might roll their eyes if you tell them that WC is about a woman who marries a man-wolf.
        If you read a blurb on Netflix, it would sound silly, but oh what an emotional movie.
        Reason #27 “Why I Like Anime”

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Same here. Like most people I enjoy Studio Ghibli/Miyazaki films. Well, I don’t think “most” people would be accurate because I know people who just “pretend” to like them.

        I know about Director Hosada because he directed a ONE PIECE movie–OP being my most favourite anime series. I didn’t realize that he also directed “The Girl Who Leapt Through Time”. Great to know. That film is also one of my favourites. It’s one of those films that I can just watch again and again.

        Well, you’re not the only one irritated at Hollywood for focusing on superficial stunts to milk money instead of making an effort to create movies with real substance. Most anime blurbs sound ridiculous, but a real anime enthusiast doesn’t judge the anime by its blurb. 😉

        I haven’t watched “Wolf Children” or “Summer Wars”, but I’ll watch them one of these days when I’m in the mood. Thanks.

        Like

    1. You’re absolutely right. It’s not one of the mainstream shows, but a hidden gem that deserves to be seen by many. I love this film, and I have a feeling that I’ll re-watch it again someday without decreasing the tears that I shed the first time.

      Like

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