Hotarubi no Mori e, translated as Into the Forest of Fireflies’ Light, is a short film based on a one shot manga by Yuki Midorikawa. The source manga was published in July of 2002 in LaLa DX. The one shot was adapted and made into a short animated film 9 years later in 2011 which in turn garnered a lot of praise. The film won awards in Japan and Scotland showing its strong following even outside of Japan.
Hotarubi no Mori e managed to do in 44 minutes what many films fail to do in as much as 190. The film follows a relatively simple plot and features a small set of characters. The premise is that Gin, a humanoid supernatural being who dwells within a forest, will disappear if he is ever touched by a human. Hotaru Takegawa, a six year old at the time, enters the said forest only to get lost. It is at this time that Gin and Hotaru first meet, marking the beginning of their friendship. Gin helps Hotaru find her way out of the forest after telling her the circumstances of his existence and his inability to touch human beings. Their friendship begins to develop from there despite the limited level of interaction between the two.
The plot in itself is simple, but is depicted in such a way that the progression feels completely natural. The story covers a wide expanse of time beginning at a point in time when Hotaru is a mere six year old until a point in time when she has grown into a teenager. Despite covering a span of many years, it makes the transitions between each year feel seamless. The ability of the plot to cover this amount of time in under an hour is commendable. Even more so, when one considers how this passage of time was used to heighten the relationship of the two. The film looks at how time passes from the view of Gin, the mountain spirit who cannot leave the forest. He awaits Hotaru’s return every year. The structure of the plot and the choice to focus on Hotaru’s yearly return rather than on Gin’s year long wait increases the charm of the film eliminating the otherwise dominating feeling of sadness that would surely surface when watching Gin repeatedly wait for so long every year. The way the year passes by in the film represents how Gin perceives time to pass as well. We are shown glimpses of times when Hotaru is away but what is highlighted is the time that she is in the forest with Gin. His waiting isn’t depicted to be agonizingly long, it is shown in such a way that highlights Hotaru’s return and the time that they spend together rather than their time apart. The focus of the scenes and the focus of Gin as he waits every year is simply on Hotaru.
Hotarubi no Mori e features two beautifully designed characters. Gin is a being of the forest, human in form but not human in nature. Hotaru is a simple human girl, capable of normal human process such as aging. The two are inherently different due to their nature. This particularly stark contrast between the two characters is highlighted in the film. It is made evident by the fact that Hotaru, a human, ages naturally, growing in height and physically maturing throughout the film while Gin, a being who is human only in appearance cannot age due to his being a spirit. Gin’s inability to age plays a large role in their relationship. He sees Hotaru grow up and begins to feel conflict within himself. His desire to form a deeper bond with Hotaru constantly grows as he watches her increase in age, maturity, and beauty as he remains the same physically. Conversely, as Hotaru ages, she too develops feelings for Gin increasing her desire to deepen their bond through physical contact. The beauty in their character however lies in the irony that despite their clear difference, they have an aspect that makes them similar. Their relationship highlights how the two, despite being different in nature, are unified and are shown to be similar in their ability and their desire to love.
The film features a nice choice of colors that enhance the feel of the movie. The use of lighter tones really highlights the positive feelings that are associated throughout. Even when the moments being shown would normally be gloomy, the colors used still give of a vibe of happiness that all adds up to a bittersweet feeling. The result is a film that highlights the beauty of love despite it being bittersweet. It emphasizes the feeling of accepting one’s fate and the value of intimacy.
Overall, Hotarubi no Mori e turns 44 minutes into an immersive experience that has the viewer rooting for Gin and Hotaru. While many consider the film to be Midorikawa’s prelude to the success of Natsume’s Book of Friends, Hotarubi no Mori e can subjectively stand at the forefront as being the writer’s best work.