Mary and the Witch’s Flower
Starring: Hana Sugisaki, Ryûnosuke Kamiki, Yûki Amami
Director: Hiromasa Yonebayashi
Writer: Mary Stewart, Riko Sakaguchi
Review by: Jameson Hampton
Mary and the Witch’s Flower is a dream in every sense of the word.
A Studio Ghibli movie in nearly everything but name, it’s the first feature length film to come out of the new Studio Ponoc. Founded by former Ghibli producer Yoshiaki Nishimura, and employing several other key former Ghibli animators, Studio Ponoc aims to keep the Ghibli magic alive. And with Mary and the Witch’s Flower, they have succeeded.
The movie follows the story of Mary Smith, an adventurous young girl, excitable but too clumsy to be allowed to help with chores. Mary hates her frizzy red hair and she hates living in the secluded countryside, bored and friendless. Led into the misty forest by her neighbors cats, she accidentally stumbles onto the rare and magical: a bright blue flower that only blooms once every seven years and an old broomstick that comes to life under her grasp and whisks her away through the clouds to the mystical Endor College of Magic in the sky.
The feeling of being in a dream starts right at the beginning of the film, due to the beautiful classic Ghibli-style art and whimsical colors. But once the mist settles over the forest, the narrative takes a sharp turn towards the surreal as well. Endor College has just enough childlike wonder, as well as just enough sinister undertones, to make it feel like a dream that prickles your mind as slightly creepy, like something is off that you can’t quite place.
At first it seems like everything is going right for Mary. She’s quickly labeled a prodigy by Madame Mumblechook, the other students applaud her magical aptitude and she’s even complimented on her red hair, which is a distinguishing feature of all the most talented witches. But even during all this validation, there is a feeling of waiting for the other shoe to drop.
As Mary is buffeted from place to place, it’s like a dream where you can’t quite remember all the pieces so your brain has to make things up to fill in the gaps. There’s a constant feeling of “how did we get here” and “why is all this happening” – but events transpire so quickly that there’s no time to focus on that, only to go with the flow and figure out what to do next. So much intrigue and magic is presented so rapidly, and so matter-of-factly, that it makes the abnormal start to feel normal in the moment.
The duality of magic is also a major theme. Magic is portrayed as wondrous, but also scary. There is a lot of fun, playful magic, but it can turn sinister nearly in the blink of an eye. (In fact, many of the most magical moments of the movie are caused by the undoing of spells, peeling away the scariness that magic had caused.) It’s something that can make you special, but it’s also treated as a great responsibility, a powerful force that can easily corrupt its wielders into obsession with magic and nothing else.
In dreams, and in Mary and the Witch’s Flower, things happen quickly and change quickly, so nothing is certain and nothing is permanent. Ultimately, magic isn’t something that you have, it’s something that happens to you. Mary has to use the resources that are available to her when she needs them, rather than hoarding them for a later time when she might not even have them anymore! Through this impermanence, Mary finds a sense of appreciation – for living in the moment, for her home and for her own strength, with or without magic.
Verdict: Watch it!
Worth it for the enchanting art, animation and color alone, Mary and the Witch’s Flower is sweet, sentimental and wistfully nostalgic. It had me feeling like I was the one who had just woken up from an extraordinary dream, ready to appreciate the potential magic in all the beauty around me. With this beautiful debut, I’m certainly excited to see what else Studio Ponoc has in store for the future.