Into The Forest of Fireflies' Light
I married my best friend...but she wasn't always my best friend. My wife and I met standing next to each other playing handbells in college. She said little more than "hello" to me each week. Yet over the course of the year, we became closer. On a fateful musical tour where we wound up stuck in the middle of a Pennsylvania blizzard for several days, sparks finally started to ignite. There's plenty more to the story, but over twenty years later, I remember those early days of friendship like they were yesterday.
Into The Forest of Fireflies' Light is a romantic journey of sorts along a similar path, and saying so might be a bit of a spoiler. Yet this magical show is one where the trajectory of the plot isn't nearly as important as how it all plays out on the screen. When I described the concept of the 45-minute film to Catha, she immediately guessed where it was going, but I had to tell her, "No, it doesn't quite wind up how you'd expect." In a sense, it's what Mushi-Shi would have been like as written by Jane Austin and directed by Makoto Shinkai. It's beautiful, haunting, and emotional, even sad, and yet also encouraging and winsome. It's just about perfect.
Six-year-old Hotaru is lost in the forest. Visiting relatives, she's wandered off and gotten very confused. And this is no ordinary woodland, either...it's rumored to be filled with spirits. Hotaru gets proof when she is rescued by Gin, who seems to be a normal late-teenage boy, save for the cat-fox mask he wears. He's willing to lead her out under one condition -- she may not touch him. For a spirit like him, coming into contact with a real human being would make him vanish for good. She doesn't quite get it, and Gin has to bonk her with a stick a couple of times to keep her at arms' length, but soon she is on the road home.
Hotaru isn't one to take that kind of favor lightly, and she returns the next day with a gift for Gin. They slowly become friends over the summer, and though she has to return home for school, she promises to come back the next year to see him. She is good to her word. Over several summers, Gin and Hotaru grow closer...Hotaru ages as we all do, while Gin seems to stay almost 20 forever. They talk, they play, they laugh. As Hotaru comes of age, they both look forward to their interactions with more and more anticipation. Both of them begin to long for the touch that will always be just out of reach...
From my description, you might be able to guess what all transpires, but I kind of doubt it. Even if you can, you'll miss the beauty with which it all unfolds. The first layer of beauty is just the artwork itself. There are no technical missteps, as far as I'm concerned; it's a sumptuous world of greenery and not-quite-ghosts, and the effect is immersive. I was captivated, and while I recognized that what I saw was visually pleasing, it wasn't overkill, either. I was too interested in Hotaru and Gin.
That's what makes Into The Forest of Fireflies' Light so powerful. While there's an unusual setting and surprises along the way, it's mostly the story of two people coming to care about one another. Without other significant characters, it doesn't take long before we're invested in these two. While it's not exactly a conversational film like the Before Sunrise series, it has that sense of personal intimacy with the lead characters.
At the same time, there's a sense of glorious naivete. Because physical contact is totally off the table, the love that develops is not oriented around lust but personal connection. When every modern romantic comedy has the leads in bed before they even have their first argument, it's nice to see a film that recognizes that deep bonds of friendship can be the most potent aphrodisiac. Beyond this, there's a sense of wonder to even the most mundane events. If you've watched a dozen anime in your life, somebody's gone to a local festival; it's beyond cliché at this point. There's one in here, too. Yet because of the bonds established between the characters beforehand, it was as if I'd never seen one before. The film shows it through different eyes that made it more poignant.
Because it's not a long film, I don't want to tell you more than I already have. I simply want to encourage you to seek it out. It's excellent, and if you're an old-school romantic at heart, it's a must-see. Here's the best encouragement to see it I can give you: there are anime I write up that I cannot remember even 24 hours later. Due to my own wackadoo schedule, I saw Into The Forest of Fireflies' Light not quite a month ago. The details from a single viewing are still in my brain as I type. It stuck with me. I think it will stick with you.
Into the Forest of Fireflies' Light -- mildly scary images that might frighten the very young -- A+