by Mohsin Mohammad
Culture Toronto's next Ghibli+ event will feature the very first production by Studio Ponoc: Mary and the Witch's Flower. What follows will not be a review of the upcoming film, but rather an attempt to gain a better understanding of what this film means to anime and why it stands out in the conversation of the culture.
From a story standpoint there really isn't anything that appears to stand out as unique or controversial about Mary and the Witch's flower. The characters and lessons of the film are things we have seen before throughout film across the world. A young girl unsure of her place in the world achieving a sense of belonging through falsehood and then the consequences of falsehood being removed.
Visually, the film is an absolute treat. The colour palette alone is worthy of remembrance to say nothing of the dynamic movement and loving detail in every frame and design. But again, we have many examples of this. Whole careers in various film industries have been made on pure visual appeal.
So what sets Mary and the Witch's Flower apart? Studio Ghibli.
In 2013 Hayao Miyazaki announced his retirement from filmmaking after the release of The Wind Rises. In the wake of this announcement several veterans of Ghibli left the studio to become the founders and core staff of Studio Ponoc. This makes a lot of sense when you consider that Miyazaki is a legendary creative talent in his own right. Miyazaki and Studio Ghibli are nearly synonymous for a reason. His talent and imagination made the studio a household name. When an artist like that moves on or stops, everything else related to them stops as well. But that's what makes Mary and the Witch's Flower notable. Absent the artistic vision that put their former studio at the top of the pile, the former staff of Studio Ghibli put together a film that looks and feels a lot like a Ghibli film.
This achievement isn't something that can be understated. We often see when visionary talent retires or passes away, their style of art goes with them. It is very rare for characterizing styles to continue past the career of the artist but at least for now, it appears that Miyazaki's particular artistic flair remains in good hands.