Mary and the Witch's Flower Review
Formed from some of the best talent at the now dormant Studio Ghibli, Studio Ponoc have now released their debut film on Blu-ray. Directed by the legendary Hiromasa Yonebayashi (The Secret World of Arriety, When Marnie Was There), Mary and the Witch's Flower continues his run of adaptating classic stories.
The film is based on the Mary Stewart story, The Little Broomstick, and tells the story of a Mary Smith (Hana Sugisaki / Ruby Barnhill) who, while following her friends black cat, finds a magical flower that transforms her seemingly innocent broomstick into one which can fly. She soon finds herself whisked away through the clouds to Endor College – a school of witchcraft and wizardry - a Hogwarts before its time. It is as Endor College that she meets Madam Mumblechook (Yūki Amami / Kate Winslet) and Doctor Dee (Fumiyo Kohinata / Jim Broadbent) and soon uncovers a mystery that suggests that everything is not quite as innocent as it seems.
There is a surprising amount of subtext to the film and the theme of man versus nature is one that is common across Ghibli's Miyazaki films. It's not as heavy handed as it might have been in Princess Mononoke, but it feels right for Studio Ponoc to pick up this aspect of legacy. Mary and the Witch's Flower is a wonderfully realised film bringing together the talents of some brilliant people. The animation style is totally in keeping with the best of Studio Ghibli with gorgeous hand-painted scenery - each scene is a true work of art - coupled with characters and animation that ooze with charm. Every scene is vibrant with colour making the film a pleasure to watch.
Having now watched both the Japanese original and the English dub, the former is the winner but as with most of the recent Ghibli films the English dub isn't far behind with great performances from the English language cast. Ruby Barnhill is great as Mary, while Kate Winslet and Jim Broadbent both bring with them the gravitas that their characters need.
For a more in-depth look at the film check out Sarah's review of the theatrical release of Mary and the Witches Flower and for a look back over the legacy of Studio Ghibli check out Zoe's wonderful Evolution of Studio Ghibli features.
The Blu-ray release makes the best possible use of the HD format with the picture being an utter delight. It's as sharp a Blu-ray transfer we've seen with clean defined lines and colours that truly pop. Animation is always good for demo material and the artwork here looks amazing - especially on larger screens. There is no sign of compression at all and the colours, from the deepest black to the brightest blue, all looks perfect. That said, there's a (very expensive) 4K edition available in Japan and I'd love to see the film in UHD and HDR to be truly blown away.
Both the Japanese and English soundtracks are also stunning - providing a full soundstage across all off the 5 channels that the DTS-HD Master Audio tracks provide. There is also a huge amount of bass adding a depth to scenes that need it. Unfortunately the extras are a little more superficial than we'd maybe like, but given the fact that Studio Ponoc has an extremely limited library to draw on this isn't a surprise. There also isn't a lot here for kids - the extras are almost all dubbed other than a couple of the trailers.
First up is the Japanese language (with English subtitles) NTV special feature that features interviews and delves into the film's production. It covers the links back to Studio Ghibli and explores the story.
There's a conversation between the pop band Sekai No Owari, director Hiromasa Yonebayashi and the film's writer Yoshiaki Nishimura which looks at how they collaborated in bringing the film to the screen. Again, this is in Japanese with English subs. The 'Film Completion Press Conference' is just that - but it features some anecdotes and interviews from the Japanese cast and crew. Once again this is Japanese with English subs.
There is a promotional behind the scenes movie that was shown in Japanese cinemas featuring the Japanese cast talking about the film. And, guess what - yes, this is in Japanese with English subs too! The interview with Hiromasa Yonebayashi and Yoshiaki Nishimura (again in Japanese) touches on similar ground to the NTV feature - this time the filmmakers talk about why the formed the studio, how they went about creating designing the characters and their personalities and other aspects of the film's production.
The disc also features a number of trailers in both English and Japanese and a selection of Japanese TV spots.