As Studio Ghibli restructures in the wake of co-founder Hayao Miyazaki’s… “retirement,” several of its former employees (including Hiromasa Yonebayashi, who directed the criminally under-appreciated The Secret World of Arrietty and When Marnie Was There) have created a new company, Studio Ponoc, in an effort to keep its particular brand of animated magic alive. I first read about their inaugural feature, Mary and the Witch’s Flower, almost a year ago, and that brief teaser left me eager to discover what the finished product might have to offer. With Fathom Events’ big U.S. premiere falling on a work day, I was afraid I’d missed my opportunity to experience it on the big screen; luckily, IFC Center booked an extended engagement, and I finally caught a screening this afternoon.
All things considered, it’s a wonderful debut. Miyazaki excelled at conveying a palpable sense of childlike wonder and awe, and Yonebayashi continues that proud tradition, retaining much of the essential Ghibli DNA: forces of nature (from floods to fires), the exhilaration and joy of flight, rolling green hills, journeys to fantastical new worlds, villains that are more misguided than outright evil, and horrifyingly gooey transformations. And while some innate quality I can’t quite articulate is lost in the imitation (as with Makoto Shinkai’s otherwise excellent Children Who Chase Lost Voices), Mary and the Witch’s Flower remains a worthy successor. I look forward to seeing what Ponoc is able to accomplish as it strays further from its predecessor’s long shadow and develops a voice and identity of its own.
[Originally written January 20, 2018.]