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The Son of Ghibli: Hiromasa Yonebayashi’s “Mary and the Witch’s Flower”

Today marks a major announcement from Japan. Hiromasa Yonebayashi, the Studio Ghibli director behind Arrietty the Borrower and When Marnie Was There, has announced his third feature film. It is titled Mary and the Witch’s Flower,” and is an adaptation of Mary Stewart’s book The Little Broomstick. Two trailers have been posted online, one for Japan, which promises a Summer 2017 release date; the second for the West, which promises an unspecified 2017 release.

And now for the bombshell news: Mary and the Witch’s Flower will not be created by Studio Ghibli. Instead, Studio Ponoc will have the honor. This is a new animation studio founded in 2015 by former Ghibli producer (and Toshio Suzuki successor) Yoshiaki Nishimura. Several Ghibli alumni, including Yoshiyuki Momose, who directed several Ghibli short films, including Ghiblies Episode 2 and the Capsule music video trilogy (seen on the 2005 DVD Ghibli Ga Ippai Special: Short Short). Yonebashi has now joined their ranks.

Nishimura previously served as the producer on Isao Takahata’s The Tale of the Princess Kaguya, which earned an Academy Award nomination for Best Animated Feature (and clearly deserved to win, ahem). That trial by fire will no doubt serve him well with his new studio. Having a number of key Ghibli animators at the helm will also prove extremely helpful, not only for the shared filmmaking experience, but also in appealing to the movie-going public. Studio Ponoc will position themselves as the “Son of Ghibli,” in hopes of winning over all those Hayao Miyazaki fans.

This teaser trailer looks absolutely spectacular, as vivid and lush and imaginative as any of the Studio Ghibli classics. This movie appears to be like a mash-up of Kiki’s Delivery Service and Spirited Away, which could be an excellent combination. The animation and art design look sumptuous, wildly colorful. Yonebayashi has grown by leaps and bounds as a filmmaker. He promises that this feature will be very different from Marnie, which is the smart move. It’s best not to become pigeonholed into one style.

I must admit, I was quietly hoping that Yonebayashi would return to Studio Ghibli for his next feature film, and the studio would hire its production staff on a contract basis, just as they had done in their early years. This will not be happening, unfortunately, but the artists and their craft will continue. Thank God this movie is being created in hand-drawn animation, and not CG! Given the enormous costs now involved in traditional animation, as well as its limited global appeal compared to 3D computers, this is a very bold move, and a welcome one. Let us hope for its success.

A few questions now emerge. One, what involvement does Studio Ghibli have in this production? Are they providing any financial assistance, or taking on a producer’s role ala The Red Turtle? Will Suzuki or Miyazaki provide personal support to Nishimura and Yonebayashi?

And the final, most haunting question to ask: what will become of Studio Ghibli? It now appears unlikely that unless Miyazaki or Takahata return with a new feature film, the studio’s days of feature animated movies have ended. There may be new short films created for the Ghibli Museum, and there may be more productions like The Red Turtle, but we should not expect anything else. The studio is now evolving into that of a holding company, a protector of legacies past. The final wild card, as always, is Goro Miyazaki. Nobody knows what he is planning, or if he even wants to continue making anime films. He could continue his father’s legacy, move to another studio, or even return to landscape architecture. Anything could happen.

It’s hard to face hard truths, but The Wind Rises and The Tale of the Princess Kaguya were farewell albums, just like Abbey Road. It now appears that The Beatles have truly disbanded. A reunion is not likely to happen. But we can look forward to the coming solo albums, which will plant the seeds for future greatness, a new Miyazaki, a new Takahata.

Thanks to Genercion Ghibli and Anime News Network for breaking the news.




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