Mary and the Witch’s Flower (2018) **** | Meari to Majo No Hana

April 29th, 2018
Author: Meredith Taylor

Dir.: Hiromasa Yonebayashi; Anime with the voices of Hana Sugisaki, Ryonosuke Kamiki, Yuki Amani, Fumiyo Kohinata; Japan 2017, 102 min.

In 2014 the worldwide fanbase of the much-loved Studio Ghibli was saddened to hear of its demise. Three years later, we’re delighted (and relieved) to confirm that its successor Studio Ponoc has produced a knockout first outing: nearly all the crew of Mary and the Witch’s Flower are Ghibli veterans, starting with director/co-writer Hiromasa Ynebayashi (The SecreteWorld of Arietty, When Marnie was There).

Like many other Ghibli productions, Mary and the Witches Flower is based on a children’s novel by British/American women writers – this time Mary Stewart’s The little Broomstick (1971). It follows Howl’s Moving Castle (Dianna Wynne Jones), Ursula K. Le Gun’s A Wizard of Earth Sea (filmed as Tales from Earthsea), Mary Norton’s The Borrowers (filmed as The Secret World of Arrietty) and Joan Robinson’s Marnie was There. 

In this contemporary soci0-political allegory, Mary Smith (Sugisaki) is living with her great aunt Charlotte (a former witch) in the placid backwater of Redmanor, where all the local kids are on vacation and Mary’s parents are working on a project far away. Mary encounters Peter (Kamiki), who is a few years older than her and has more freedom to roam around town. She also meets cats Tib and Gib who lead to her finding the broomstick and the equally potent magic flower, setting her on the way to a kingdom in the clouds, ruled by the malicious Madam Mumblechook (Amani) and her evil sidekick Doctor Dee (Kohinata). They are running a school of magic – Mary is initially mistaken for a new student – but their real goal in their Frankenstein-like laboratories, is to put the whole universe in danger by changing animals and humans alike into ugly zombie-like creatures who will obediently following their command (anyone read The Bell Curve?). Although Mary has rather low self-esteem, she soon discovers her fighting spirit, rescuing Gib and Peter from being transformed into zombies, finally taking on the deadly duo in a splendid takedown finale.

The character designs and certain action scenes are familiar from former Ghibli productions but, contents-wise, there is a stark difference: the antagonistic forces of many Ghibli productions where never as evil as Mumblechook and Doctor Dee, who are truly Bond villains, ready to put the whole World in danger; their schemes of biological mutations reminding us of the worse medical ‘experiments’ in the Nazi camps of WWII and some of today’s political regimes.

But this rather harder edge does not deflect from the overall impression of wonder and magic and when the heroine starts believing in herself, she soon becomes a building light and inspiration for others. After thirty years of Hayao Miyazaki’s Studio Ghibli,  his former collaborators now carry the flame to a new beginning in the form of Pomoc studio. AS

Altitude Film Distribution and Studio Ponoc are proud to present, Mary and The Witch’s Flower is releasing in UK and Irish cinemas nationwide, in both dubbed and subtitled forms, from 4th May, with a One Night Only preview of the subtitled version on 10th April 2018.

Copyright © 2024 Filmuforia