Director: Hiromasa Yonebayashi
Cast: Hana Sugisaki, Ryunosuke Kamiki, Yuki Amami, Fumiyo Kohinata, Hikari Mitsushima, Jiro Sato, Kenichi Endo, Eriko Watanabe, Shinobu Otake
Runtime: 1 hr 43 mins
Released By: Golden Village Pictures
Opening Day: 12 October 2017
Synopsis: Mary has moved to Redmanor Village. In a nearby forest she finds a mysterious flower called the "Fly-by-Night" that only blooms once in seven years. It is also called the forbidden "Witch's Flower". Acquiring magical powers that last only for one night, Mary is permitted entry into Endor College, the magical world's finest educational institution, towering above a sea of clouds. However, one lie by Mary causes a serious incident to fall on somebody she cares about. In a world surging with magic, what is the glimmer of hope that Mary, a powerless human girl, finds beyond the darkness? This summer, Mary will find surprises and joy... mistakes and destiny... and a bit of courage. An entirely new witch's movie that will move the hearts of every generation.
Hayao Miyazaki might be among the top acclaimed animation directors alive today but he certainly needs to brush up on his skill on how to run his studio. After announcing his retirement for the umpteen times and the abrupt closure of Ghibli’s production department, lead producer Hiromasa Yonebayashi (When Marnie Was There, The Secret World of Arrietty) and other talents from Studio Ghibli went on to start their own production company, Studio Ponoc to continue making animation features.
When your talented ex-employees became your competitors, it certainly spells trouble for the future of Studio Ghibli because they so good in their craft that they can replace the latter.
Based on a children’s novel The Little Broomstick (1971) written by English author Mary Stewart, Mary Smith is a restless young girl staying with her great aunt Charlotte in the quiet town of Redmanor. Following a pair of feline nicknamed Tib and Gib,Mary discovered a rare glowing blue flower in the forest. Called fly-by-night, the magical flower is highly sought after by witches who intend to use it to create the world’s most powerful magic. Mary is then unwillingly led to a journey that involved a flying broomstick, wizardry school, strange creatures and also the life of a fellow villager being threatened. Will the girl with fizzy red hair save the day?
With a fearless heroine in the center of the story and countless fantasy elements, one will definitely associate Mary and the Witch’s Flower with Ghibli’s past efforts such as Kiki’s Delivery Service, Spirited Away and even Harry Potter. Of course, neither Studio Ghibli nor J. K. Rowling invented the wizard and witches genre. In fact, some of Ghibli’s works are adapted including Howl’s Moving Castle, The Secret World of Arrietty and Tales from Earthsea. Yonebayashi relied on the same formula to deliver a familiar but yet unforgettable watching experience.
From the opening sequence which showed an unexplained character escaping on a broomstick from flying creatures to the magical school, Endor College, a place rich with bizarre-looking creatures and out-of-this-world architectural to a third act which feature a massive numbers of wild animals, the world of magic is impressively created and looks splendid on the big screen. Even the background art is beautifully drawn. Pacing is never a problem as there’s hardly a dull moment and with very few main characters in the story, it actually serves to tell the story in a more efficient manner.
Our redhead protagonist, Mary is an instantly likeable character. Always trying her best to help despite her clumsiness. Sure, she did something unthinkable, which nearly caused harm to her acquaintance, but we are pretty sure you will be won over by her earnestness and strongwill by the time the credits roll just liked Chihiro Ogino in Spirited Away or Haru in The Cat Returns. Yonebayashi’s collaborator on When Marnie Was There, Takatsugu Muramatsu returns to provide the soundtrack. With the release of Mary and the Witch’s Flower, viewers will sit up and notice the huge potential of Studio Ponoc. It no doubt possessed the ability to produce world-class anime and all they need right now is to break away from the mould of Ghibli and deliver something far more original, distinguishable down the road.
(Everything you love about Studio Ghibli is reproduced in Mary and the Witch’s Flower, worrying times for the stalling studio indeed)
Review by Linus Tee