0 comments 📅26 June 2018, 17:05

I’ve always loved stories that look at the ideas of time and emotion,” Mari Okada says as she discusses her moving directorial debut Maquia: When the Promised Flower Blooms, before adding: “With this opportunity to direct, I wanted to recreate the types of anime that I loved as a child.”

Visiting London as part of her promotional tour for the film, the beloved scriptwriter of Anohana: The Flower We Saw That Day and The Anthem of the Heart is just as sweet as one would imagine. The writer-turned-director chats excitedly about her epic fantasy, which focuses on its titular character Maquia and her decision to raise a human child despite her clan’s immortality and clash with mankind. It’s an emotional rollercoaster of a film, but it is the type of story that Okada is well-versed in creating.

Look back at her filmography and it’ll quickly become apparent that she’s not afraid to look at relationships in detail, regardless of how difficult it might be to do so. Despite the film’s poignant premise, Okada’s bubbly personality shines through as she speaks, and the language barrier means little as her animated display makes it easy to understand her.

What was the inspiration for this film?

Mari Okada: “I’ve always loved stories that look at the ideas of time and emotion. With Anohana: The Flower We Saw That Day it was about the friend you lose in childhood who comes back later down the line. Then in Nagi-Asu: A Lull in the Sea the childhood friends go into a sleep because of the frozen sea, and they come back years later. I thought that if I was going to be directing my own film then I wanted to take these concepts of time, relationships, and emotion which I had worked on in other animations previously, and I wanted to take them to the next level.”

How did this project come about?

Kenji Horikawa (Maquia’s producer): “I’ve been working with Okada-san as a writer for about 10 years, and I always had the impression that she had a strong idea for what it was that she wanted to write. But making an anime is a team effort, and she always had to tailor what it was she wanted to write to what the director wanted. I was sure that she had a store of really good ideas just waiting to come out, so I said to her that someday I’d love to see something that was 100% hers, and that’s how this came about.”

Maquia feels quite Western, it’s almost like a fairy-tale. Why did you want to have this style of narrative in the film?

MO: “Usually when I have written screenplays in the past they’ve been modern day, slice of life high school dramas. But, with this opportunity to direct, I wanted to recreate the types of anime that I loved as a child. There are elements of the story that are quite emotional, Lilia’s story is very sad, for example, but to show that in a contemporary setting would have been problematic. So, I wanted to tell a story that would have a contemporary resonance, but set in a fantasy world.”

You’ve talked about time as a theme, but another major theme in the film is motherhood. Why did you want to focus on this notion in particular in the film?

MO: “In my directorial debut I wanted to use the strongest elements of the writing I have done so far, and what I always tried to write about was human relationships. I didn’t want a story that came out of twists and surprising elements, I wanted something that came out of the relationship between the characters. I think the mother-child relationship is a very strong human bond, so that’s what I decided to write about.”

Maquia and Ariel have a unique relationship as mother and son, especially because he must deal with her eternal youth. How did you approach this as a writer?

MO: “Clearly Maquia and Ariel aren’t a real mother and child, but when I thought about this type of relationship what I wanted to show was that it wasn’t being related by blood that was important, it was the love between the two. Maquia doesn’t have parents, and she’s lived her life thinking that she’s alone. She finds it hard to be alone, and the kind of relationship she wants is an unbreakable one. When she looks around she realises it’s the mother and son relationship that is an unbreakable bond to her, so when she comes across Ariel she wants to be his mother. So, for her it didn’t have to be a real mother son relationship. She didn’t want a child, she wanted that bond. That’s what I was thinking about when I was writing.”

How did you approach Ariel’s character?

MO: “I tried to put myself in his shoes. I think it’s hard for a child to realise how much their mother struggles, they may fall out over something because they don’t realise what their mother goes through. As Maquia doesn’t get any older, and they get closer and closer to the same age then Ariel realises the struggle that she faces and he wants to protect her, in a similar way to a lovers’ relationship. I thought that the gap between them worked in the story.”

This is your debut as a director, were there any challenges that you had to face with this project?

MO: “When I write screenplays I write at home, by myself. But when you are directing you have to use an office, and you have to work and discuss things with everyone else. I’m not naturally a social person, so it wasn’t easy with me to start with. But, gradually, I grew to enjoy discussing ideas with everybody, and I found it an interesting challenge. It’s thanks to everyone that I worked with that I was able to make this film, so I am grateful.”

Will you continue to direct, and if so what genres what would you like to tackle?

MO: “I have a really good team, and I feel like it would be hard to get as good a team together again. So, I would love to direct something again with a team like them. In terms of what kind of thing I would like to direct it would depend on what opportunities comes up. I’m quite often writing comedic screenplays, this time I didn’t have that so I would like to work on something that has a little more humour in it next time.”

Maquia: When the Promised Flower Blooms is released in cinemas nationwide on June 27.

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