“The first time I met him was when I was six.”
Hotarubi no Mori e (2011), translated in English as Into the Forest of Fireflies’ Light, is a 45-minute anime film directed by Takahiro Omori and based on the one-shot manga written by Yuki Midorikawa. It centers around Hotaru, who one day finds herself lost in an enchanted forest, and eventually, finds Gin, a mysterious boy who cannot be touched by humans for it would cause him to disappear. Each summer, Hotaru would spend her days with Gin, playing and exploring the forest. However, while she ages with the passage of time, Gin seems to age at a much slower pace. We see Hotaru go from being an elementary student to middle school student and finally into a high school student, and Gin remains exactly the same as he did in the same encounter between the two.
The film has a very simplistic nature to it mainly due to its short duration. Its character-driven story does very little to expand on the enchanted forest or its supporting characters, but it gives us enough to build upon the main storyline between Hotaru and Gin. Even its animation style isn’t as elaborate or detailed as one might see in other anime films. Its main focus is the protagonists and it does everything for the focus to be on them. And while it may be only a 45-minute film, one does come to care for Hotaru and Gin. We see how they bring each other comfort in a time when each of them felt at their loneliest, and how their relationship builds over time to one of a strong friendship and eventually one of love. The score, a gorgeous arrangement of piano and violin pieces, helps to elevate the wistful affection Hotaru feels for Gin and Gin for Hotaru. It leaves the audience with an impressionable reminder of how brief are their encounters.
One of the most interesting characteristics of the film is that it almost plays as a dream with how the director chose to replay the events and thus welcomes the viewer to experience this as if they were also viewing nothing but a dreamy memory. The film begins as a flashback to this time in Hotaru’s life where get brief glimpses of certain focused events that take place in the same enchanted forest. The only reason we see the passage of time is due to Hotaru mentioning she has changed schools, with her displaying her new uniform to Gin, as well as her obvious growth from a child to a young teenager. Even by the end of the film when the flashback ends, you are left feeling a deep nostalgia as if you were the one relieving a much-loved memory.
Hotarubi no Mori e (2011) emphasizes the beauty of the brevity of human life. Life is a force that continues to move forward and with each passing day, we grow, we fail, we love, we grieve, but that is the beauty of it all. Human life is not meant to be prolonged or to be chained down by our impossible desires to remain in a constant comfortable state that keeps us away from those that might hurt us, as is the case for Gin. Human life is meant to have its tribulations and its highs, with each tear each smile is much sweeter. “Time might separate us someday. But even still, until then, let’s stay together,” Hotaru tells Gin during one of their more sincere meetings. She knows their encounters cannot last forever, as much as she wishes them so. Nonetheless, that doesn’t debilitate her desire to make the most out of her time with Gin. Life is short thus she decides to love to her fullest, even if it the pain that might come afterward might be unbearable. She knows she can only move forward.