I’ve prepared myself for the end of Studio Ghibli on numerous occasions, although Hayao Miyazaki doesn’t seem to quite grasp the concept of retirement. He’s flirted with the idea before, but things seemed pretty final after his Oscar nominated swansong The Wind Rises in 2013, with his company partner Isao Takahata, also bowing out some months after him with The Tale of Princess Kaguya. Despite new blood coming through the ranks — one being Miyazaki’s own son, Goro –the studio halted production indefinitely in 2014 after the founders’ respective retirements. 2014’s When Marnie Was There seemed like it marked the end of an immeasurably successful era of animation , but it proved to be the catalyst for something else.
Not quite as catchy as Ghibli, right? Although I’d assume that the name is the least of their comparative-related worries. Out of the embers of Ghibli’s in-house animation comes the new Studio, formed by former Ghibli producer Yoshiaki Nishimura and long-time Ghibli animator and director Hiromasa Yonebayashi. Ponoc could quite easily be thought of as Ghibli’s second coming, a changing of the guard that avoids the burden of the Ghibli name with Ponoc’s parent company moving into different avenues of animation (they co-produced Dutch-British film The Red Turtle this year). Presumably, this was the easiest way for Nishimura and Yonebayashi to work on films similar to Studio Ghibli’s, but with complete creative control on their releases.
The studio’s first film, Mary and the Witch’s Flower, is slated for a summer 2017 release in its native Japan. Taking a cue from their forefathers, Ponoc have gone West, adapting “The Little Broomstick” by English writer Mary Stewart. It’s very Ghibli. Very Ghibli. As you’d expect when it’s coming from the same director and animators – it boasts the same immaculate and meticulous hand-drawn backgrounds, unmistakable Ghibli character design and a very heavy dose of whimsy and fantasy.
But some of it seems too familiar. Mary, for one, bears a striking resemblance to Ponyo from Hayao Miyazaki’s 2009 film of the same name; she’s a young, red-headed girl with sleepy eyes, but this time she’s a witch who finds a black cat and an enchanted broom. Admittedly, the those are both common tropes, but it seems to encroaching on Kiki’s Delivery Service territory, especially the shot at the end of the trailer where Mary falls from her broom into a mass of greenery.
Hey, this looks pretty familiar too.
The trailer itself is only 32 seconds long, but what’s briefly shown gives me the impression that Ponoc’s first bout won’t stray too far from what they know. It feels like an amalgamation of ideas from some of Ghibli’s past films, and of course there’s nothing wrong with that (the Japanese box office and academy award recognition prove that) – so, there’s a reason why Ghibli have reigned mostly uncontested for the past 25 years, especially in the West. Whether this is Ponoc trying to pull in some of their previous audience from Studio Ghibli, or if this is their direction headed forward remains to be seen, but if the new studio are capable of capturing even half the magic that Studio Ghibli are renowned for, then we’re in for a treat.
Link to the trailer here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=J4vF4LDRrpo