“Mary and the Witch’s Flower” stars Hana Sugisaki, Ryunosuke Kamiki, Yūki Amami, Fumiyo Kohinata, and Hikari Mitsushima. Released in Japan on July 8, 2017, followed by a North American release on January 18, 2018, the film is about a young girl who discovers a flower that grants her powers.
The film is directed by Hiromasa Yonebayashi, who also directed Arrietty and When Marnie Was There. It is based on the book, The Little Broomstick, by Mary Stewart. Before I get into some of the latest R-rated features that are releasing this weekend, I thought it would be best to talk about a new animated feature from Japan. One that is not produced by Studio Ghibli. This film is produced by a new Japanese animation studio known as Studio Ponoc, which was founded by former Studio Ghibli producer Yoshiaki Nishimura back in 2015. The first time I noticed it was from the short trailer I watched during my big-screen experiences with some of the Studio Ghibli classics. It definitely looks like it came from Studio Ghibli in terms of the animation, even though it’s not, so it would be interesting to see if Studio Ponoc’s feature film debut can capture the same appeal as the famous Japanese studio. I managed to attend an exclusive one-night-only premiere of the film at my closest cinema, and while it was nothing too special, I still find it fun to be a part of these types of theatrical experiences. As for the film itself, all I can say about it is that it’s a strong debut for Studio Ponoc. For this review, I will be looking at the English dub version of the film, which features the voices of Ruby Barnhill, Kate Winslet, Jim Broadbent, and Teresa Gallagher.
Like the other films from Studio Ghibli, the story in “Mary and the Witch’s Flower” has a simplicity that makes itself easy to follow for the little kids as well as investing and well-balanced for the older fans of Japanese animation. While it does offer a couple of plot points that we’re familiar with, its storytelling has enough gas in its tank to deliver a charming and invigorating piece of anime art. The English voice cast did a solid job with their performances, including Barnhill as Mary. For those who don’t know, Ruby Barnhill was mostly known for her live-action debut in Steven Spielberg’s The BFG back in 2016. Her voice acting debut was far from perfect, but she definitely showed some effort in bringing a character like Mary to life. If you’ve been following Studio Ghibli for quite some time, like myself, you’ll immediately notice the familiar animation style that the film provided. That’s because they were done by the former employees of Studio Ghibli. I’m very glad that they went in that direction because I couldn’t see anyone else creating something as gorgeous as this. The character designs, the locations, the visual appeal. All of these qualities point to the fact that Japanese animation is the type of art that should be appreciated by everyone. The musical score by Takatsugu Muramatsu was pretty entertaining to listen to. It doesn’t compete with the soundtracks provided by Joe Hisaishi, but it has its moments.
Overall, while far from being an anime masterpiece, “Mary and the Witch’s Flower” is a visually stunning debut for Studio Ponoc. Thanks to its characters, the voice performances, the animation, and its musical score, the film successfully allows the art of Japanese animation to continue inspiring both kids and adults alike for future generations. Based on what I saw, I’m sensing some very good things to come for the new animation studio as well as the filmmakers involved in it. I would highly recommend it to anime fans and families if it comes out on Blu-ray in the States.