After being deserted by her parents, 11-year-old Miyori shuts her heart from the rest of the world and denies any form of human relationships. She was entrusted in the care of her grandmother who lives near a forest. Miyori will take a walk in the forest where she felt a strong sense of loneliness in the forest which seems to have nothing. However, she soon encounters unbelievable things and gradually realizes that the forest is more than what it seems...
When one looks back one the history of anime in the West, it's easy to see the progression from the initial "cartoons are for kids" perception to it's current position as a viable storytelling medium. It's only natural then that both anime and manga have begun to creep in to our everyday lives, from modern "cartoons" for children, to games, advertising, even quiz show questions. The influence of anime and manga is literally all around us, every day. However, like anything in life, both anime and manga are also susceptible to influences as well, and Miyori no Mori is one of the few titles that
has not only utilised this influence, but has openly embraced it.
What am I talking about? Well, the movie is based on the manga of the same name by Oda Hideji, and while the style of both the manga and the movie is very much Japanese, there are overtones of European comic styles, in particular those from France. This is because Oda is one of the growing number of mangaka to be associated with "La Nouvelle Manga", a movement which gathers French, Belgian and Japanese comic creators together, and the influence of this is telling in the designs of the characters and settings in both the manga and anime.
Miyori no Mori is about 11 year old Miyori, who has been sent to live with her grandparents in a remote mountain village due to her parents divorce. At first she is unnerved by the sudden upheaval in her life, however as events settle into a much calmer pace, she begins to appreciate her life in the country, until she begins to see the spirits that live in the forest that is.
One of the biggest problems with Miyori no Mori is simply that it has a distinctly sanitised feel about it. The plot, which proceeds at a decent rate, lacks a certain punch that could have made the movie great. Most of this is due to the fact that the movie places a great deal of emphasis on cooperation between the spirits of the forest and humans, however the actions and feelings of the spirits have been heavily doctored so that the movie will appeal to younger audiences. That's not to say that the movie would have been better with people being ripped to pieces, no, it's simply that the spirits feel like something out of a children s book instead of a folk tale.
However, the story is still enjoyable in it's own right, and while there is a distinctly environmentally friendly theme to the movie, this is balanced in some measure by the fact that the tale is also about a girl coming to terms with the "loss" of her family.
In terms of art and design the movie feels very "Ghibli-esque", which is not surprising as even though the movie is Yamamoto Nizo's directorial debut, his previous work includes art directionon several well known movies, including Mononoke Hime, Toki wo Kakeru Shoujo and Grave of the Fireflies. Probably the most pleasing thing about this though, is that Yamamoto's and Oda's styles seem to mesh rather well within the movie. Oda's designs for Miyori, the forest, the spirits, and the other humans have been carefully transferred to anime, and while there has been some minor alterations here and there, the end result is pleasing, if a little quirky at times.
Animation-wise the movie is very good. There is a smooth, sometimes fluid, feel to the movie, especially in it's depiction of more ephemeral beings. The characters move in a very relaxed and natural manner, and while the movie features very little in the way of "action", the more hectic sequences are very nicely realised. The background art is also very well rendered, and is the main reason why many people initially believe the movie to have been made by Ghibli. This is no surprise though, as the director is also responsible for the background art and, like most directors, he has found a way to stamp his mark on the movie.
As far as the music goes, the movie is well served with the various scores used throughout, many of which have a distinctly pastoral feel to reflect the environmental message of the film, an atmosphere which even extends to the more dramatic pieces. The nice thing about this is that the music doesn't have that "mish-mash" feel that can sometimes appear in anime, giving the film a more "continuous" atmosphere than it may have otherwise had. The effects are also very good, and are clear and distinct even when there are several effects occuring at once. However, the movie does suffer a little from the inevitable clash that occurs between sound effects, music and speech, something which can lead to re-watching the scene in order to decipher what is being said (hurray for subtitles!).
The voice acting is of a very good standard, especially for what is effectively a fringe movie (i.e. not based on a popular manga, game, etc - yes, it had a large budget for a TV movie, but that doesn't mean it was well known to begin with). Yuu Aoi plays the role of Miyori extremely well, imbuing the character with all the feelings, fantasies and frustrations of an 11 year old girl with a chip on her shoulder. Although Yuu is relatively unknown as a seiyuu (her only other role is in Tekkon Kinkreet), her performance in this movie makes her one to watch out for in the future. The rest of the cast are also relatively unknown for the most part, yet they manage to portray their characters with aplomb and, especially with the older characters, grace.
One of the things I liked about the movie was the degree to which Miyori is developed. At the beginning of the story she is understandably depressed, upset, and more than a tad angry about the events in her life, and it was nice to see that the reason for her emotional distress was rooted firmly in reality. Granted the supernatural element helps her to come to terms with her new life, yet this should not be used to diminish the growth in her character come the end of the film.
That said, where the movie suffers most is in the fact that Miyori is the only character to receive any continuous development. While there are sme sparing nods at developing certain other characters, these are simply token gestures that don't really go anywhere. The upshot of this is that Miyori actually stands out too much in the film, which isn't necessarily a bad thing until you reach the point where nothing can happen in the story unless she's around, and it's unfortunate that this is exactly what happens on several occasions.
This is a rather quirky and charming story on the whole. The animation and sound make this pleasing to watch, and the designs of the characters and creatures, as well as the lush backdrops, give the movie a nice, relaxed feel. The plot is well laid out, with understandable reasons and goals for the characters, however the strong environmental message is reinforced somewhat by the supernatural element, and can become annoying for some people as the movie progresses. Also, while this is very much a Japanese production there are distinct European tones present throughout, something which adds an air of surrealness to both the plot and the characters, and some viewers may be put off by the slightly "alien" feel inherent in the film.
Miyori no Mori is surprisingly enjoyable in many respects, especially if one likes certain Ghibli movies (or others of that ilk). It may even be the case that fans of Higurashi no Naku Koro ni, Mokke, Mushishi and Ghost Hound may find themselves warming to the film because of the numerous similarites, not the least of which is the fact that they all have rural settings and involve the supernatural.
As far as directorial debuts go, this is a pretty good showing for Yamamoto, and one hopes this movie will be the start of better things for him and Yuu Aoi, as well as the other cast members.
It is an amazing story about a girl named Miyori and the forest she becomes involved with. The story takes place in a countryside village and the forest right next to it. And throughout the story, Miyori matures quite a lot as she realizes that she is not alone at all.
The soundtrack is enthralling and suits there really well. It drags you even deeper into the story and makes it more believable.
The animation is also a success and all the environments are really beautiful. Each character is very unique.
I enjoyed every last second of this anime. It is touching and gives a good feeling.
Miyori no Mori is a rather straight forward story about a girl accepting her place in the world and saving the forest she's grown to love. There's a strong environmental message that reminds me of Ghibli films like Pom Poko and Mononoke Hime. While the spirits and demons bring to mind things like Tonari no Totoro or Natsume Yuujinchou. It really succeeds with its' imagery - classic scenes of thatched houses or dragons or witches are used to evoke a nostalgia and wonder.
In short, if you enjoy Ghibli films or relaxing stories about demons and spirits in Japan, than you'll like this film. The
art is lovely. Miyori ends up being a lot more three dimensional than, say, your average Ghibli protagonist, and her issues with her parents add a realism to the movie, I didn't expect to find.