“I would rather share one lifetime with you than face all the ages of this world alone.” —Arwen
Maquia is a member of the Iorph, an ancient race of beings with uncommonly long life. They spend their days weaving Hibiol, cloths that chronicle their history. However, the peace is broken when Mezarte, a neighbouring kingdom, attacks: many Iorph are killed, and Maquia’s friend, Leilia, is taken captive. Maquia herself is tangled in the Hibiol and hauled into the skies when one of the Mezarte’s flying mounts, Renato, succumbs to disease and goes berserk. She crashes into a forest and comes across an ambushed caravan, where she finds a baby in the arms of his mother. Maquia decides to take the baby in, naming him Ariel, and travels to a village where a woman named Mido takes them in. Meanwhile, Mezarte’s Renato begin dying off, and the king attempts to hold onto power by introducing Iorph blood into their kingdom; Leilia is forced into an arranged marriage with the prince of Mezarte. When Maquia learns of this, she travels to Mezarte with Ariel to try and save Leilia. Their rescue is unsuccessful, and Maquia moves to Dorail, where she takes on a job as a waitress. Ariel becomes a young man. Struggling with his identity, he rejects Maquia as his mother and joins Mezarte’s armed forces. Ariel marries Dita, while Krim, frustrated by the turn of events, kidnaps Maquia and convinces the other nations to declare war on Mezarte. During the invasion, Maquia stumbles upon Dita and Ariel’s home, where she helps Dita deliver her child. Krim confronts Leilia and is shot in the process, bleeding out. Leilia later sees her daughter before flying off with Maquia and the last Renato. In his old age, Maquia visits an elderly Ariel, who had lived a full life, and watches as he peacefully dies. She cries for the pain of the loss, but also feels that there was happiness in equal measure. Sayonara no Asa ni Yakusoku no Hana o Kazarō (Let’s Decorate the Promised Flowers in the Morning of Farewells, Maquia: When the Promised Flower Blooms in English and Sayoasa for brevity) is a P.A. Works film that was released in February of this year in Japan, marking the first original feature-length title that Mari Okada (who’d previously worked on The Anthem of the Heart) has directed.
During its run, Sayoasa explores notions of familial bonds, love and the passage of time in a high fantasy setting, making use of the Iorph’s longevity to convey the range of experiences that one might encounter in raising a child through Maquia’s perspective. Blessed with a long lifespan, Maquia’s chief, Racine, warns her about the risks of becoming attached to those with a shorter lifespan, but in spite of this warning, Maquia chooses to take in a baby and raise him as a mother would. Although initially lacking in experience, and always prone to tears, Maquia is shown to be doing her best. From happiness to sorrow, Maquia experiences the full spectrum of emotions present in life, a far cry from the static, isolated state of being the Iorph live in. Maquia learns that outside of her old world, things are constantly changing and do not stand still as she’d previously known: in raising Ariel, Maquia comes to appreciate everything from joy to despair, and that happiness can accompany pain, as well. This is contrary to Racine’s warnings early in the film, and in its presentation, Sayoasa suggests that it is precisely the coexistence of happiness and sorrow that constitute a life well-lived. While immortality (or extended life) is often considered to be a blessing when folks are asked about it, fiction often explores the idea that doing something meaningful with the time that one is given has a greater value than spending an eternity locked in tedium. J.R.R. Tolkien briefly touches on this through Arwen, who chooses a mortal life with Aragorn. Despite knowing the sorrow that Aragon’s mortality might bring her, she accepts this. By comparison, Tolkien’s Elves are portrayed as being tragic, who have become encumbered with watching life transition to death: Tolkien describes mortality as the “Gift of Men”, that a finite life and the rest following life is not a curse. To follow one’s heart in a finite life with its sorrows and joys is the path Arwen chooses. While Maquia might be confined to the realm of a long life, she will carry her experiences with her forever – the Iorph are not immortal like Tolkien’s Elves, but Maquia’s interactions with the outside world gives her a much fuller, richer experience than the status quo that she’d lived in previously.
Screenshots and Commentary
- The Iorph’s homeland is designed to convey a sense of bygone splendour, of a once-great civilisation whose time has passed: vast crumbling structures suggest a mighty society in decline, and furthering this feeling are the Iorph themselves, who spend their days chronicling their histories in cloth without much thought towards the outside world. One of the greatest challenges I encountered for this post was cutting down the number of screenshots down to thirty: there’s so much scenery that it was difficult to pick screenshots that showcase some of the artwork in Sayoasa and those that are relevant to the narrative.
- Maquia is an orphan and is someone who fears loneliness; the chief of their clan advises Maquia that the only way to stave off pain is to avoid seeking out attachment. While a possible answer for avoiding pain, the reality is that neither happiness nor sorrow can exist in the absence of the other. This moment indicates that the Iorph have become a passive society, choosing to avoid trouble rather than confront it. Their ways create a sense of antiquity, which in turn provides audiences with a context for Maquia and her development throughout Sayoasa.
- Unlike Tolkien’s Elves, who remain excellent craftsmen and healers, as well as being able serve as warriors, the Ioprh seem defenseless against aggressors. When the nation of Mezarte attack, it is unsurprising that the Iorph are overwhelmed. The Mezarte bring with them dragon-like mounts called Renato: a cursory glance suggests that they are named after the Latin name “Renatus”, which is “to be born again”, and are probably named to signify the rebirth of something glorious.
- The diseased Renato flies off into the night skies after crashing through the temple housing the Hibiol weavings. In the chaos, a distressed Maquia is hauled along for the ride. This accident sets in motion the remainder of Sayoasa, and here, one can get a sense of scale of the landscapes in Sayoasa: there are moments where things look photo-realistic, attesting to the incredible visual quality within this film.
- When Maquia comes to, she finds an infant in a tent, and decides to take him in. My initial impressions were that this caravan was probably attacked by the Mezarte forces en route to the Iorph, but regardless of who the perpetrators were, it is the moment where Maquia meets Ariel and decides to look after him. A fair portion of Sayoasa has Maquia struggle to understand what being a mother means, although her lack of knowledge is offset by a desire to preserve life.
- After leaving the caravan with the infant in her arms, the sun breaks over the horizon, bathing the land in a warm light. The moment is magical to Maquia, who comes to associate the scent of an infant with that of the sun. After the terror of the night, sunrise indicates a new beginning. The prominent use of of yellows and oranges in this scene creates warmth: sunrises in different contexts hold different meanings, and usually, the combination of saturation and hues serve to communicate to audiences what that sunrise is meant to evoke.
- Wandering through the countryside, Maquia eventually finds a cottage and meets Mido, who takes them in. She eventually names the infant Ariel, a Hebrew name meaning “Lion of God”. While a male name, English-speakers have used it as a female name, as well. Mido has two other children, Lang and Deol, who initially regard Maquia and Ariel as little more than a curiosity. However, as Maquia spends more time with Mido, Lang and Deol come to regard Maquia and Ariel as family, as well.
- The passage of time in Sayoasa is quite ambiguous: were it not for a change in setting and Ariel’s aging, it would be quite difficult to tell the passage of time. The passage of time in The Fellowship of The Ring is something that Peter Jackson modified in his adaptation, being set in a much shorter time period. Tolkien originally had Frodo set out seventeen years after Bilbo’s 111st birthday, but in the movies, Frodo leaves within weeks of the party. The condensed timeline is likely intended to convey a sense of urgency, since Tolkien’s original text had the hobbits move at a much slower pace, one that would’ve slowed the movie experience.
- Mido admits that being a mother is largely something that one must learn through experience, and despite her own difficulties, manages to get by. This moment allows Maquia to listen to Mido’s experiences and gain from them. Mido later dyes Maquia’s hair a light brown to match Ariel’s, helping conceal her identity as an Iorph: while Helm’s inhabitants are largely neutral towards them, their remarks also suggest that the Iorph might be regarded with some mistrust, or even hostility, because of their isolation from the world.
- The pastoral setting in and around the village of Helm is reminiscent of The Shire, a verdant and peaceful location far removed from the worries of the world. Like Jackson’s adaptation of Lord of the Rings, Sayoasa makes extensive use of colours in the environment to clearly indicate the atmosphere. In Sayoasa, life and death are presented as natural events in life: Ariel’s first learning about death comes when the family dog passes away. Maquia is still green with respect to this, and she dissolves in tears, as well. Lang makes her promise to be stronger for Ariel’s sake.
- Maquia is shown to care deeply for Ariel, and teaches him how to weave the Hibiol cloth, as well. Looking after Ariel, and helping out Mida, the seasons pass in this sleepy village. However, other children in the village, including Dita, find Ariel’s relationship with Maquia unusual and tease him for it. Dita later returns to apologise, but because of sudden news that Leilia is now entering an arranged marriage, Maquia leaves and heads for the capital to try and save her. She takes Ariel along, and Dita is unable to deliver her message.
- On a vessel to the capital, Maquia encounters Krim. A male Iorph, Krim is voiced by Yūki Kaji (Hanasaku Iroha‘s Koichi Tanemura. Maquia is voiced by Manaka Iwami (Hotaru Hoshikawa in New Game!!), while Miyu Irino (Saji Crossroad of Gundam 00 and Amanchu Advance‘s Peter) provides Ariel’s voice. Some familiar names also return in Sayoasa: Racine is voiced by Miyuki Sawashiro (Strike Witches‘ Perinne H. Clostermann, Masami Iwasawa from Angel Beats! and Sword Art Online II‘s Sinon), Ai Kayano plays Leilia (Saori Takebe of Girls und Panzer, Mocha Hoto from GochiUsa and Chisaki Hiradaira from Nagi no Asukara), Dita is played by Yōko Hikasa (K-On!‘s Mio Akiyama), to name a new.
- The capital of Mezarte is a beautiful city, resembling the Commonwealth of Athens’ capital from Break Blade. Fantastical settings in anime have always been of an exceptional calibre, and P.A. Works did a phenomenonal job in Sayoasa: it is a compliment when I say that the locations of Sayoasa are comparable to those of Peter Jackson’s Middle earth. The capital of Mezarte has the same glory as Minas Tirith, being a vast city built in a beautiful location.
- Thirty screenshots is not enough of a space to capture every moment in Sayoasa, but in the interest of keeping the post of a manageable length, thirty screenshots is what I will have. Here, I’ve got one of the Renato, being used as a stead to carry Leilia during the day of her wedding. Krim and several other Iorph agents manage to infiltrate the processions and create a disruption, allowing Krim to take Leilia.
- The rescue is ultimately unsuccessful: when Maquia learns Leilia is pregnant, she hesitates, and decides to leave Leilia. Maquia and Krim go their separate ways here: while Maquia consents to leave Leilia (and in doing so, represents the choice to look to the future), Krim resolves to do what he can to save Leilia. The next time they meet, Krim will remark that Maquia’s life was one of general happiness, as she was able to experience a wide range of things, whereas Leilia became confined within the Mezarte capital after her child did not appear to display any Iorph characteristics.
- The moody industrial town of Dorail is where Maquia and Ariel settle down next. Initial struggles cause Maquia to lash out at Ariel, but the two later reconcile. Maquia takes up a job as a waitress in a tavern, while Ariel begins working in the forges. In Dorial, vast industrial machines can be seen, covering the area in eternal gloom; it’s a far cry from the blue skies of the capital, and the open spaces in Helm.
- As he grows older, Ariel becomes increasingly embarrassed by the notion that his coworkers have of him: Maquia outwardly resembles someone who is fifteen, and with Ariel at roughly the same age, some wonder if he and Maquia have eloped or similar. While working, Maquia encounters Lang at the tavern: he’s become a soldier for Mezarte and upon meeting Maquia, they spend time catching up.
- The monarchy in Mezarte is presented as being ineffectual and weak: the rulers seem to place an undue emphasis on power and the symbols of power, at the expense of their nation. With the Renato dying off, and Leilia failing to bear any offspring with Iorph characteristics, Mezarte’s leadship grow desperate, indicating that their hold on the world wanes while other powers rise. Details like these, while never explicitly naming the state of the world, serve to nonetheless help with world-building, and Sayoasa‘s world is as intriguing as those seen in P.A. Works’ other titles.
- For her perceived failures, Leilia becomes locked away and forbidden from seeing her child, driving her to despair. Forgotten and abandoned, Leilia’s only question is how her daughter, Medmel, is doing. The prince of Mezarte appears powerless to do anything about her situation, mirroring the nation’s own decay over time. This brings to mind Gondor and its decline over the ages: in its quest to recruit ancient powers to preserve their rule, the monarchy in Mezarte appears no different than the rulers of Gondor, who cared more for their past than their present.
- Maquia is devastated when Ariel announces his intention to join the armed forces. Prior to leaving, Ariel encounters Lang and laments not being able to do more for Maquia, and when the time comes, the two part on uncertain terms. Maquia is taken by Krim here to an unknown location subsequently. When other nations begin mounting an assault, Krim leaves for the royal palace, and Maquia makes her way outside. During the combat sequences, the incidental music marks a shift to the motifs that Kenji Kawai is best known for, resembling the music from Gundam 00 and Ip Man.
- When I first began watching Sayoasa, I had no idea that Kawai would be composing the music for the film: the motifs for the Iorph and Maquia are quite unlike anything that I’d previously heard from Kawai. However, I began recognising his signature style in some of the more melancholy pieces, and by the time the fighting in Mezartes began, there was little doubt in my mind that Kawai had composed the film’s soundtrack. Krim and Leilia had once been in a relationship, and when his efforts to bring Leilia back fails, he attempts to immolate them both. Krim sustains a fatal wound subsequently,
- The invasion of Mezarte begins with a naval bombardment. While Mezarte might be a dying empire, with a decadent and ineffective leadership, audiences nonetheless feel compelled to back their armed forces because of the personal connection: both Lang and Ariel are fighting for their lives against the invading forces. At this point, soldiers on both sides have access to single-action rifles, but the close quarters forces combatants on both sides to rely on their bayonets. The fighting and death is interspersed with scenes of Maquia helping Dita give birth after the latter goes into labour.
- When Ariel and Dita’s child is safe, Maquia finds Ariel on the battlefield with an injury. Years of concern and regret manifest here: Ariel is genuinely sorry for having left Maquia’s side so suddenly, and addresses her as mother once more. The two reconcile and part ways: Ariel returns home to Dita and finds their child, while Maquia frees the remaining Renato and takes to the skies.
- Leilia gains closure when she meets Medmel. Feeling as though she’s finally found peace, she jumps off the edge of the palace, and Maquia catches her. The two fly off on the Renato back to their homeland. I note that owing to release patterns, any search for the term “Maquia” will yield results for the film first, rather than for the district in Peru’s Requena province or a family-run inn in Pontevedra, Spain. While I’m early to the party as far as bloggers go, the film’s screening in theatres around North America mean no shortage of reviews for the film are available for reading.
- Reviewers universally found Sayoasa a generally enjoyable film. Poignant and sentimental, the film is described as being imaginative and heart-melting, praised for its exceptional visuals and critiqued for leaving some items unresolved. In a rare instance, I am largely in agreement with existing reviews for Sayoasa, although personally, I enjoyed the film enough to give it a recommendation and be more generous with my scoring – I think that the film has earned its A grade (a nine of ten) for being very captivating and immersive in spite of its flaws.
- Now that Daylight Savings has ended, this side of the world has darkened again, and the autumn has given way from the cool, sunny days to cold and wet days. I am someone whose disposition is impacted by the weather, and weather of late has resulted in greater melancholy and lethargy, as well as declining motivation. However, there are ways of combating this – under rainy skies today, I went out for dim sum at a local restaurant that has some of the best deep-fried squid this side of the city. Good food is a phenomenal tonic for the spirit, and despite the rest of today being rainy, I was in good enough spirits to write out this post, vacuum and push further in Destiny 2, which I got for free as a part of the promotion for the Foresaken expansion.
- Sayoasa returns Maquia to the sleepy village of Helm, where an elderly Ariel passes away peacefully after a full life. Life and death is always a very tricky topic, and death inevitably brings sadness. In Chinese culture, death is accepted as a natural part of life, not to be feared, but also is something rarely discussed for fear of bringing about ill fortune. However, for Maquia, separation is still something that she finds difficult, and so, cries for his passing and the treasured memories they shared together.
- I still recall hearing about Sayoasa during the midsummer of last year, watching beautiful trailer and reading that director Okada intended Sayoasa to be a film about human drama, meetings and departures that audiences can relate to. Catching only glimpses of the Iorph settlement and closeups in the film, I had no idea what the movie would entail. The movie released in Japan in February and became available in July across North America, and I was avoiding all spoilers. The Blu Rays became available in late October, allowing me to finally watch and write about the film.
- Having spent the entirety of Sayoasa portraying the bonds between Maquia and Ariel, audiences can tangibly feel the sense of loss that Maquia experiences. The weather stands in stark contrast to Maquia’s sorrow – it is the same beautiful blue skies that she and Ariel have known. The choice to have Ariel’s death come on a beautiful day is a reminder that life and death are very natural parts of reality, and that for better or worse, things do continue on.
- This post represents a small sample of the beautiful moments in Sayoasa, and for anyone who did end up reading all the way to this point, I remark that one might have wasted their time: Sayoasa is something to be experienced, rather than read about. If you’ve not done so already, kindly stop reading this post and go check the film out. I won’t be bothered: I’m more concerned about pushing my way through Destiny 2‘s campaign and debating whether or not Battlefield V is worth getting, especially considering that the Arras map looks almost identical to this screenshot. In blog news, I’ve fully migrated the site’s screenshots now, so there’s no worry about screenshots disappearing once Flickr actions their promise to delete old photos, and looking ahead into December, besides another instalment in CLANNAD ~After Story~, I will also be writing about The World in Colours and Anima Yell, the latter of which I’ve fallen quite far behind on.
From a narrative perspective, Sayoasa deals predominantly with a direct theme, in depicting the experiences one has over the course of a lifetime, and the complexities of the world around Maquia that she is made to adapt to. There are numerous secondary stories that are told in a broken pattern; like real life, it is not possible to know of every individual’s story in full, and that our impressions of others are constrained to what we see of them. The story thus stands well enough on its own: there’s enough going on to keep viewers engaged, but not enough to overwhelm them. Maquia herself is likeable as a lead character, stumbling through things she’s unfamiliar with, but also displaying enough resilience to adapt to her circumstances. The core of Sayoasa, already enjoyable, is augmented by P.A. Works’ exceptional visuals and the musical genius of Kenji Kawai. From the structures of the Iorph homeland, to beautiful countryside around Helm, the vast capital city’s majestic structures and the industrial gloom of Dorail, every location is rendered in incredible, life-like detail. Subtle elements, from the lighting to water effects, further enhance the strength of the artwork, immersing viewers into Maquia’s world. Meanwhile, Kawai’s music creates incidental music that genuinely captures the wistfulness and sorrow that permeates Sayoasa. In this film’s soundtrack is quite different from the bombastic tones that Kawai is best known for (e.g. Gundam 00, Ip Man, Higurashi: When They Cry and the live-action Death Note movies); use of strings and harps gives Sayoasa‘s music a very distinct feeling, capturing Maquia’s feelings. However, traces of Kawai’s style can be heard in the more dramatic pieces, such as when Maquia rescues Leilia after she reunites with her daughter, or during the combat sequences. Altogether, Sayoasa is a highly entertaining film that presents a message of what makes life worth living in a highly visceral, tangible manner; this is a movie I can easily recommend for viewers.