Mary and the Witch’s Flower – Life After Ghibli


Nostalgia isn’t entirely unlike a rose, grab it too tightly and you’ll prick yourself on its many barbs, and its plucked beauty will fade and sour. Instead a good creator knows the tenuous nature of a beloved past, and treats nostalgia with an appropriate delicacy. This is how director Hiromasa Yonebayashi presents ‘Mary and the Witch’s Flower’, the debut feature of Studio Ponoc, as a respectful homage to his past; but more importantly an exciting promise of the future. Studio Ponoc was founded by Yonebayashi and long-time Ghibli producer Yoshiaki Nishimura, and was seen as somewhat of a life raft to many disenfranchised employees of a directionless Studio Ghibli. Hayao Miyazaki is famous for announcing his retirement and then coming back for one more feature, and in 2013, talking about his new film ‘The Wind Rises’, Miyazaki once again spoke of the end of his career: “I know I’ve said I would retire many times in the past, many of you must think ‘once again’, but this time I’m quite serious”. He has since come out of retirement two more times for ‘Boro the Caterpillar’ and ‘How do You Live’ respectively. This is of course fantastic news for fans of his phenomenal portfolio, but it’s been a tumultuous few years for the beloved animation house, who for a while simply stopped making movies. Indeed. The studio hasn’t released a feature film of their own since 2014’s ‘When Marnie Was There’, which was directed by Yonebayashi himself – making this Ghibli’s longest break between releases since the founding of the studio. It’s unsurprising then, that as the company struggled to find a direction in those Miyazaki-less moments Yonebayashi and Nishimura took matters into their own hands, and it speaks volumes to the artistic urge to create that so many Ghibli staffers followed them to Studio Ponoc. ‘Mary and the Witch’s Flower’ is a faithful adaptation of Mary Stewart’s book The Little Broomstick, about a girl who is whisked away to a magical Academy for young witches and warlocks. Mary is a bored girl in an empty house itching for something to happen. While she’s a stereotypical protagonists in the same vein as a long line of Ghibli leads, you can’t help but feel Mary succinctly captures Studio Ponoc’s own origin story; bored and waiting for something to happen before finally making something happen for themselves. And the analogy doesn’t stop there, mistaken for a new student, Mary is forced to fake it until she makes it, and watching her stumble through classes and accidentally impress her teachers is a telling joy as Ponoc themselves find their footing as an animation house. In a fascinating interview with The Verge Nishimura commented that Miyazaki and fellow figurehead Isao Takahata were making significantly different movies compared to when they first started out; where once they had made films of lively people meeting for the first time, they now focused on stories of people parting, of saying goodbye. It’s an understandable evolution, but Nishimura wanted to move away from goodbyes. And once again say hello in the movies he made. He wanted to direct the type of movies Studio Ghibli had earned their name making. As much as I loved ‘Princess Kaguya’ and ‘The Wind Rises’, I too longed for the nostalgia of Studio Ghibli early years of the fantasy films that I’d fallen for decades ago and I was immediately hooked when Mary, for the first time, flies from the earth leaving all that is mundane and normal below and races towards a world dripping with imagination. So, Mary and the Witch’s Flower certainly has the look, the lead and the love such a production warrants, but somehow their comforting presence leaves you a little discomforted by the time the credits roll. At first blush, Ponoc’s debut feature can feel like a shameless knockoff, but it’s an unfair complaint to level at someone who has been animating, directing and learning in the house of Ghibli for the last two decades. To expect to Yonebayashi to change now is unrealistic. That said you can’t help but feel that Yonebayashi grabbed the flower of nostalgia a little too hard with Mary, with proceedings becoming overly referential – or reverential – here. It’s full of homage is to numerous Ghibli greats, including ‘Spirited Away’ ‘Howl’s Moving Castle’ ‘Princess Mononoke’, and of course ‘Kiki’s Delivery Service’, and while some of these are likely coincidences, there’s enough to verge on actual theft not unlike Mary’s actions throughout the film. That’s stealing Mary! Despite this it’s still a tremendous picture from a clearly talented director and the studio behind him, full of funny beats and a story that despite plenty of visual similarities distances herself from the more melancholy vibes of Kiki’s Delivery Service, similarities that had me worried before release. refreshingly Mary is somewhat of an anti Kiki, bullheaded, unflappable, and single-minded. Though the two do share a hilariously clumsy streak. The problem with nostalgia is it’s often only skin-deep, once you peel away the immediate gratification of something warm and familiar, there’s usually little of substance under the surface. Whilst Mary and the Witch’s Flower can feel a little unoriginal at times, however, it’s a welcome return to form where it counts. Mary is a statement of intent for Ponoc, with its abundance of imaginative imagery and beautiful animation it feels like the studio is trying to assuage any doubts about their pedigree, and their fantasy worlds look to prove their intended course. It refuses to buckle under the weight of expectation, and sets a precedent for the fresh-faced Studio Ponoc. Here are a group of talented individuals with the experience, the know-how and most of all the heart to make the sort of film that had largely disappeared in recent years. If Mary is Ponoc’s hello to all of us, then I can’t wait to see where this conversation leads. As always thanks for watching. I had a whole heap of fun putting this one together and Want to thank everyone who helped shape the script over on the Beyond Ghibli Discord. I have another shorter project coming whilst I work on my next big video and if you want to help decide what that might be Head over to the Patreon, and have your say in the upcoming poll. If instead you think I should do another video on Mary, only this time not say the word ‘Ghibli’ once Hit the like button and I’ll attempt that utterly impossible task.

100 thoughts on “Mary and the Witch’s Flower – Life After Ghibli

  1. I know Studio Ponoc will find its own voice and vision and as "Ghibli" as this movie is its a great start and I look forward to what they do in the future.

  2. I would like to remind everyone that when we first watched the Ghibli movies we were young. Some are saying this movie didn’t have the same feel as the others but that’s because we’re older. We dissect things more than we did back then, taking everything to the heart and not the mind.

  3. "Mary" is basically two movies. On the one hand, it's a completion of a Brit-Lit trilogy started when Miyazaki himself adapted Mary Norton's "The Borrowers" into "The Borrower Arrietty". Then came "When Marnie Was There"; now, Yonebayashi rounds off the trilogy with "Mary". (I know; "Howl" is technically Brit-Lit too, but it stands on its own, like other Ghibli epics.

    The other point is that this could have been a Harry Potter knock-off, except that this magic academy had lost its moral compass, and was dabbling in dangerous magic, with Mary being the outsider who sets things right. There are two cats in the film; one is transfigured into a giant toad-like being; but when they meet each other, they both behave like the cats they are–it's a heartbreaking moment.

  4. I grew up on Studio Ghibli, and it has played a pretty deep role in my entire career and my life in general. So, I sincerely hope some wonderful mind shows up to bring us new stories as unique, refreshing and true as Miyazaki’s once he’s gone, not necessarily the “EXACT” kind of stories, as those are for him to tell.
    Won’t get into detail as to why, but this is definitely not it.

  5. this movie felt like the creators took too many ideas from Ghibli's movies but they forgot the main idea in Miyazakis movies – the soul.
    In Ghibli's movies you always get attached to the characters , even the bad ones. In this movies I didn't care about any of the characters because it felt that the movie was made just for the sake of making a movie, not to tell a story.

  6. I thought this was a Ghibli film when I first saw it I feel the Ponoc Studio wanted to Both Pay respect to Ghibli and maybe continue on a Path you said yourself Ghibli strayed away from agreed I can not wait to see where Ponoc Studio I look forward with much Delight

  7. You made a great video but I still disliked this video and saw it as something that was riding a legacy with the hopes of garnering affection. Nostalgia did pull me in at times and there were bits that I found well done, but overall the story was generic and pretty flat… the art was gorgeous of course, as was the music but that's about it. A painting can be beautiful without it having any meaning beyond looking nice, and that's not very touching is it? I look forward to their future in making movies but I hope they learn from this and put more thought into their stories with a little more UMPH to pull at the heart and mind.

  8. I still need to watch this movie, but first, Howls Moving Castle! Whenever I watch one of your videos I feel like an hour has gone by (in a good way!) but I get surprised every time whenever I realize it’s only been eight minutes! You pack so much information and thoughts into your videos that I usually forget time

  9. talk about modest heroes. that was a more interesting cinema outing then witche's flower by a hella of a lot. and more timely relevent

  10. I love the animation and I appreciate what Ponoc is trying to do, but I do hope it they have a new movie it’s much more original than Mary.

  11. I loved that movie when I saw it. It has its flaws in its story but it’s really beautiful and just has so much heart in it 😀

  12. Even if the most of the animators came from Ghibli it's important that Ponoc is a new studio, and a new work environment, with new corporate structures. This was a brilliant first film for a new studio, we can't expect Ponoc to be releasing instant classics right away, or every time here after.

  13. So it wasn’t just me that saw all the similar scenes from Studio Ghibli films! Don’t know how I feel about that, seems almost like recycled animation, but it was a visually beautiful film with a lot of sweetness.

  14. I saw Mary and the witches flower at my local cinema in a special Japanese preview 2017 and then bought the dvd once it came out. I can’t wait for more studio Panoch movies.

  15. Honestly this has to be one of my favorite YouTube channels. You talk about all of these movies in a really genuinely caring way. Another great video 👍

  16. While the story was slightly lacking, the animation was beautiful. They really captured the British countryside, which I appreciate a lot, the clouds, stone walls in the fields, you can tell they actually visited England before making the movie. That tomato and brussel sprout combo did make me cringe a little though. Yuck!

  17. Mary was bored at the beginning of her movie and so was I! (it got better enough later) but I almost wish the movie followed the girl we see at the very beginning! it was so exciting this girl running away, surrounded by fire and yelling people, crashing through the cloud, and then everything grinds to a halt and we get Mary…

  18. I'm having a hard time finishing Mary because when I watch it I feel like is a rip-off of ghilbli so I try to look for something that I will inspire to finish watching it and to look it in another light, that I'm just setting bars too high for this new studio.

  19. Hello Joe,I am a Ghibli fan from China,I really appreciate your video and your thoughts.You know that most of Chinese people are not able to visit Youtube and some other foreign websites due to our internet policy, but I really want to share your special and brilliant ideas to Chinese Ghibli fans, so I want to reprint your video to a Chinese website on animation and video games: Bilibili.
    I am a college student in China and I’m just learning English,  I won’t take your video for any commercial use.Thank you very much.

  20. A handful seem to really be upset with aspects of this movie but I always felt it was nostalgic and stood well on it's own. I absolutely loved every part of it! I am excited for Studio Ponoc and the future it so clearly has <3

  21. EVERY SINGLE TIME!!! you make me cry!! i love you and your videos, i appreciate the effort you clearly put into them, the production level, the sounds, visuals and oh THAT NARATIVE damn i would mary your voice if i could. Thanks for making a simple youtube video an experience like none other. Going above and BEYOND what other creators provide.
    P.S. been following you for a while on my other account but i wanted to give you another sub cuz you deserve it!

  22. Good analysis as always. But I do have to comment about how Ponoc is "Ghibli 2.0". Personally I don't think it is at all, saying that is like saying Ghibli is ripping off Nippon.

  23. I wonder why they didn't stay at Ghibli to do this though. What exactly is going on at Ghibli lately? Has everyone left? Why could they have not stayed and made the film.

  24. I felt this movie was too vague and repetitive
    Not that I don't love….I really loved every scene and bright colours
    But Ghibli is still Ghibli nothing can ever replace the beauty it achieved

  25. Please do, Violet Evergarden a masterpiece that opened the views heart and a message that know one could understand. A story to tell and Beyond Ghibli.

  26. You’re videos are so good… you only bring up the things that are needed and you skip unnecessary commentary. You make ones opinion change in a good way. You don’t make me think “damn I was wrong about this movie” or “I was 100% correct”. It’s a great balance. Also your voice is marvelous. So deep and calm and friendly. I see a bright future for you on YouTube 🙂

  27. Ya know, I never look at the brand names but I always seem to find the Ghibli ones and then Mary came out and I loved it! Doesn't matter where he goes, I always find his works!

  28. This helped me be a little more forgiving to studio Ponoc but I still really wasnt impressed with this movie. Ill be open to giving this studio more chances in the future tho

  29. Even though I did not like the movie that much, I have to admit you, as a content creator, always put me in a good mood. I´m glad I found your channel.

  30. I found this movie to be lovely and am looking forward to more movies from this studio. Of course i will miss ghibli, but i see this studio as a younger sibling or child of ghibli and hope the future is bright for them.

  31. I heard Ponoc's next movie 'modest heroes' is good, which is good. For strange reason I didn't felt any nostalgia or notice similarities from other ghibli films because memories of ghibli fims were quite worn off. Despite that I found many problems with the movie especially with the story, and I think the problem isn't exactly trying to replicate just 'Ghibli' but rather them trying hard to replicate big scale Ghibli movies. Other movies the director has directed were relatively small scale and I think that's where the director's talent shine. This 'trying to replicate big scale ghibli' problem isn't only ponoc's problem imo. Makoto Shinkai and Mamorou Hosoda also did the same thing and I think all future animation directors are going to go that phase without realising the magic done by Miyazaki Hayao can only be done by Miyazaki Hayao.
    Anyways loved your video and thanks for pointing out similiarities from other ghibli movies that I didn't notice

  32. ehhhhh… my issue isn't with it's unoriginality as much as it was paced poorly and it didn't give the audience anything to really care about. I chalked up any Ghibli coincidences with maybe the book they were basing it on (and maybe they could have separated their designs better,) but it's whatever. Everything else was pretty unremarkable. It had potential, and probably the most emotion i felt were towards the two cats. But i think their management of time was uneven. Parts that needed more time and depth were rushed or not even addressed, and parts that could have been done quicker were drawn out. Which obviously ate up the time that could have been allocated to the scenes that needed the work. The film frequently defaulting to "telling" instead of "showing." I didn't care about the friendship between our main characters because it felt forced and unearned. Overall, I felt the movie was very forgettable, and that i wished i hasn't spent time on it. I kept hoping to feel something for anyone throughout the film, but i soon caught myself wishing for it to be over faster… I hope the studio improves, but i really wished you were more specific with the other faults of this movie instead of just the Ghibli similarities.

  33. i thought the movie was shallow copying until I heard some of its creators' interviews about leaving Ghibli and striking out on their own, and no longer being able to use that Ghibli brand name as some magic spell. and then I realised that this movie is completely about them and their own feeling, about someone going out in the world and realizing they can no longer count on the borrowed magic of a supremely talented ancestor. Mary is Ponoc, and her grandmother is Ghibli.

  34. I love Mary. Such a nice film, and I actually like that it reminds me so much of Ghibli's film. It's comfortable and sort of nostalgic. I can't wait to see what they come up with next –and cutely enough, they did the ghibli thing and made Mary their logo in a similar style as Ghibli did with totoro 😀 I like it. Nice reminder and still new.

  35. Just like to let you know, before your videos i owned and watched zero anime, after i now own 5 ghibli films on blu ray, persona 5, and both ni no kuni games. My 1 and 3 yr old are growing up w them as well. Mission accomplished sir!!

  36. Ah! I saw this movie on Netflix I think. I immediately knew Ghibli alumni had worked on it. I must say that When Marnie Was There is a good movie that I appreciated more on the second go. Mary and the Witch's Flower is definitely Studio Ponoc showing off all the skills they've learned, and I look forward to seeing more from them! I suppose then, that the only problem I have with Mary is that it's not exactly as stellar or breakout as other Ghibli films, and in what exact way I can't really place. Maybe it's just having Ghibli-quality in someone else's hands? That said, The Cat Returns is an odd duck in Ghibli's library and I'd like to see Ponoc do something like it, odd but charming. I suppose that's one thing it needs to be, regardless of who helms it – Charming. It does need a spark of magic, and maybe they don't have that witch's flower naturally, but I think they can still find it.

  37. I loved this movie, and I had thought it was Ghibli. After viewing several of your videos I am excited to start viewing many other works

  38. I found this movie at random, and really liked it. The story and characters weren't incredible or anything, but everything had this laid back, pleasant vibe to it, and the magic school was visually creative.

    And gosh darn, that animation is buttery smooth. <3 Was surprised that this wasn't a Ghibli film, can't wait to see more stuff from Ponoc in the future!

  39. Great finishing words my good sir.^^b

    Also, I am pretty happy that someone at least is willing to go and try to carry the torch of many, many good childhood memories. Here is to hope that Ponoc will find their very own way of telling many wonderful stories in the years to come, without feeling the need to be exactly like their parent Ghibli.[–]]

  40. My kids watched this and enjoyed it a lot. As such, I most complaints I could say is more on the technical aspects which none of my kids would care anyways.

  41. When we look at art history, we see masters apprenticed under other masters. Their work would start out formulaic until the artist found a firm ground in the basics, and their creativity could finally blossom. Anime is art, so following the pattern of master influence to independent creativity should be expected.

  42. This anime was beautiful and I really enjoyed the atmosphere and music, however the scenario and some of its characters were its downfall for me. It prevented it from being a great movie, and it ended up being an enjoyable but forgettable one instead.

  43. I really have high hopes for Hiromasa Yonebayashi, especially since I love Arrietty and it's one of the best Ghibli movie for me. I also enjoyed Marnie a lot, so when he finally get his own movie under a new studio, I got really excited. I don't mind the Ghibli-esque aesthetic, since they are spiritually from Ghibli.

    To be fair, Mary is an okay movie. There's some good moment to it, in fact, it is pretty good if it is a debut movie, but director Hiromasa isn't a newbie. He is an experienced director that already direct some of the best from Ghibli, so I ended up quite disappointed. I think I just set my expectation too high, but I feel Hiromasa still have plenty of potential, so hopefully we see more from him and Studio Ponoc.

  44. Does studio ghibli sell just one big set off all ghibi movies.. i would totally buy. i just went to ghibli fest at movies to watch totoro yesterday. i love stuido ghibli so much.

  45. I think what this studio really needs are good writers. Their visuals are beautiful, but the story and pacing of this movie left it feeling soulless.

  46. Studio Ghibli should make sequels to to their own movies like pixar! I would love to see a sequel to their movies where the protagonist are older! And id love to see another Lupin movie by Ghibli!

  47. I think ultimately they just need a stronger narrative to capture that magic. Watching this made me really think that Studio Ponoc would be a great pick to animate Witch Hat Atelier. The same wonder and meeting, coupled with self discovery and growing and stakes. Either way I'm grateful I watched this read of Mary and the Witch's Flower because I couldn't help feeling disappointed by it. Framing it as a technical showcase makes alot more sense, an advertisement even to the anime world maybe? A girl can hope.

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