Director: Hiromasa Yonebayashi
Producers: Yoshiaki Nishimura, Will Clarke (English version)
Written By: Riko Sakaguchi, Hiromasa Yonebayashi
Based on: ‘The Little Broomstick’ by Mary Stewart (novel)
Starring: Hana Sugisaki, Lynda Freedman (English adaptation)
Pleasantly surprised. Fantastic storytelling, took me back to my childhood, back to the early days when I discovered films were a window into another world, an escape from reality.
The film’s story is based on a children’s novel The Little Broomstick, written in 1971 by the English author Mary Stewart, long before Kiki’s Delivery Service and the Harry Potter series. When I watched Mary and the Witch’s Flower, I did not know that, and even though I noticed certain similarities, to focus on these would not be objective nor fair.
I love Japanese animation and the word ‘love’ doesn’t even scratch the surface of what I feel about it. I grew up rewatching season after season of Dragon Ball and Captain Tsubasa to name a couple. Combine that with films such as Spirited Away (2001) and Howl’s Moving Castle (2004), and you’ll know what I mean. I had expectations, I won’t lie.
The storytelling is strong enough to fly high. I was skeptic for about 30 seconds but then I was charmed. Popcorn in hand, I became a child again, sitting at the movie theatre and going along with Mary’s adventure.
Mary and The Witch’s Flower is much more than an animation based on a book. It all started when producer Yoshiaki Nishimura was charmed by one bit of dialogue that he read in the original story: “And it wouldn’t be right to use the spellbook to unlock the front door, either. I’ll do it the way it’s used to, even if it does take longer…”
Set in a magical world, Mary goes through many fun and scary adventures filled with heart-beating excitement, thrills and suspense, flying the skies and travelling beyond the clouds. After these dazzling adventures, Mary finds herself without any magical powers, only a simple broom and a single promise she made. This is when Mary discovers the true strength within her.
Unusual harmony with one musical instrument is heard throughout the film. It is the sound of the stringed percussion instrument called the hammered dulcimer. In search of an uncommon musical instrument to set the tone for the entire film, producer Nishimura learnt from animation director Isao Takahata, about the hammered dulcimer, Nishimura decided to make it the central instrument for the film.
After leaving Studio Ghibli at the end of 2014, Yoshiaki Nishimura established his own animation studio on April 15, 2015. The origin of the studio’s name, ponoć, comes from an expression in Croatian meaning “midnight” and “the beginning of a new day”. The current film Mary and The Witch’s Flower is Studio Ponoc’s first feature animation, and involved a large number of creators and staff from Nishimura’s days at Studio Ghibli.
The attention to detail throughout the film makes me excited about what’s to come from the new-born Studio Ponoc, where talented artists and creators who worked on past Studio Ghibli productions have come together to work on director Yonebayashi and producer Nishimura’s newest work.
If I were you, I would be keeping an eye out for them. I know I will.