Synopsis: Young Hotaru meets forest spirit Gin one summer while on vacation. Over the years their relationship builds. The catch? If Hotaru were to ever touch Gin, he would disappear forever. And so emotion pools in the spaces between them.
There isn’t much to say about Into the Forest of Firefly Light. Its plot isn’t overstuffed, and leads Gin and Hotaru aren’t complicated enough to warrant an in-depth analysis. It’s a light movie. It isn’t even that lo\g, with a runtime of 44 minutes. But despite its simplicity – and, I’d say, because of it – Into the Forest of Firefly Light is beautiful.
The plot is straightforward despite its spiritual elements. Young Hotaru meets Gin, a mysterious, unaging forest spirit hidden behind a fox mask, while on vacation in the countryside. The two get along, but he warns her – at the touch of a human, he will disappear for good. They decide it’s an arrangement they can work with, and they wile away the summer days traipsing through the forest, comfortable in each others’ company.
Into the Forest of Firefly Light conveys its characters’ emotions with adept care. And there’s a lot of emotion here – what starts off as a warm friendship between a girl and a young man blossoms into bittersweet romance as the years go by and the two spend their summers together, never touching, but desperately wanting to. This desire is rarely put to words, with Hotaru acutely aware of Gin’s predicament – but in cutaways and lingering shots, we feel a distance between the two that they want nothing more than to close.
A vein of Ghibli-esque world building runs through this movie, though the movie’s lore is never given as much screen time and attention as movies like Spirited Away and Princess Mononoke would otherwise do. That’s fine, though. The mysticism of Into the Forest of Firefly Light exists more to emphasize the ephemeral, fragile unhuman-ness of Gin. From there comes the conflict of the movie, as the two slow lovers desperately yearn to touch one another.
The feelings pooling between Gin and Hotaru eventually bubble over during a summer festival years in the future. Events happen in a fairly predictable way, and yet I still find myself smiling warmly each time I see them unfold. That feeling I felt in those last few moments of the movie is a testament to how well the movie built up the relationship between Gin and Hotaru, and how palpable it made their emotions felt.
It’s tough to build a heartwarming relationship with a runtime that’s a little longer than your average anime episode. We aren’t given the time to really feel like we’ve built a relationship with the characters on screen. But in knowing which shots and frames to linger in – in letting us seep slowly in the simmering emotions of its characters as they bubble and boil over in beautiful firefly light – this quick little movie pulls at the heartstrings, like we watched something special in its quiet understatedness.
Give Into the Forest of Firefly Light a watch, and reach out with your feelings the way Gin and Hotaru reached out with theirs.
(+) Careful, caring direction builds a heartwarming relationship between the two leads
(+) A short and easy-to-consume story that’s fulfilling despite its 44-minute runtime
(-) There’s really not a whole lot to process here, though that isn’t really a bad thing