Since Hayao Miyazaki's 2013 retirement, the future of Studio Ghibli has continued to remain uncertain. Though Miyazaki has mentioned plans for a future feature-length film, and the studio achieved success co-producing The Red Turtle, the fact remains that a Studio Ghibli director has not created a movie since When Marnie Was There. Many people have already begun to look toward other directors as the future of Japanese animation, Makoto Shinkai in particular, whose film Your Name was a huge hit worldwide.
However, if it's #StudioGhibli's unique style you're looking for, then thankfully, you don't have to look too far. Former Ghibli members have teamed up to create Studio Ponoc, and their first movie, Mary and the Witch's Flower, promises to be everything you love about Ghibli films!
What's It About?
Mary and the Witch's Flower is based on Mary Stewart's 1971 novel The Little Broomstick. In the book, a black cat leads a young girl to a school of magic where a sinister plot involving cruel experimentation is afoot. Here's the first trailer:
Even in 90 seconds, you can already tell that it's going to be beautifully designed, action packed, creative and slightly crazy — everything you'd want in a Ghibli film.
Though at first the movie's plot appears to bear similarities to other Ghibli films (Kiki's Delivery Service, anyone?) the intense action, fantastical creatures and school setting is certain to set it apart from other films.
Meet Studio Ponoc's All-Star Staff
Fearing that Studio Ghibli's days were coming to an end, director Hiromasa Yonebayashi (The Secret World of Arrietty, When Marnie Was There) and producer Yoshiaki Nishimura (The Tale of Princess Kaguya, When Marnie Was There) chose to set up their own #animation studio in order to keep the spirit of Studio Ghibli alive. In fact, even its name is a reference to this dream — Ponoc is from the Serbo-Croatian word for midnight, or as Yonebayashi explains:
“The moment when an old day ends and a new one begins”
Knowing that a major part of what makes Ghibli films so special is that they feature beautiful, hand-drawn animation, Yonebayashi and Nishimura hired eight Studio Ghibli artists to retain the signature Ghibli style. That's why, from character design to color and its imaginative, painterly backgrounds, Mary and the Witch's Flower looks comfortingly familiar. Ghibli's films are also known for their gorgeous depictions of nature, especially the countryside (think of My Neighbor Totoro, for example) and judging by the trailer, it seems that #StudioPonoc will be continuing that tradition.
The Future Of Animation
Studio Ponoc's first film pays homage to Studio Ghibli in many ways, not least of all thematically. Says Yonebayashi:
“A fundamental part of the Ghibli story is that the heroines’ humanity, rather than any special powers, was always their greatest strength...[A] lot of Japanese animation has a kid solving a problem by getting inside a giant robot. The Ghibli philosophy was different, and I wanted it to be the Ponoc philosophy too.”
However, Studio Ponoc is prepared to take a step in a new direction and distinguish themselves from Studio Ghibli. While Ghibli films are frequently nostalgic for the past and a simpler way of life, Mary and the Witch's Flower will be taking a different direction:
“[It's a film for children] moving into a 21st century that’s different from the one their parents imagined for them...So what filmmakers should say at a time when people are losing hope — and what kind of film might help restore it in our children — are big themes for right now...I’d like everyone who sees the film to ask...themselves as they encounter darkness and doubt: what’s my next step?”
Mary and the Witch's Flower is set to hit theaters in Japan in the summer of 2017, and hopefully a US release will follow shortly after.
Are you also excited about Mary and the Witch's Flower? Let me know your thoughts in the comments below.