Mary and the Witch’s Flower


Viewed – 09 September 2018  Blu-ray

When news reached me that beloved Japanese animation house Studio Ghibli were closing their doors, I was concerned that the type of movies seemingly unique to that studio, would never see the light of day again.  Thankfully that concerned was quashed on hearing about this release from new studio  ‘Studio Ponoc’ and directed by Ghibli stalwart Hiromasa Yonebayashi.  Based on the children’s book ‘The Little Broomstick’ by author Mary Stewart, we have Mary, a spirited young girl who stumbles upon an enchanted broomstick one day after wondering into a misty forest.  Soon she is transported to another world, a school for witchcraft not dissimilar to Hogwarts, where the colourful characters may be hiding a secret linked to a sacred flower.

Mary-and-Witch-Flower

This is where the movie revealed an identity crisis, that lingered throughout.  Despite best intentions and a charming veneer of wonder and imagination with top-notch hand-drawn animation … echoes of the movie’s heritage and titles like Spirited Away and Kiki’s Delivery Service meant it all quickly began to feel overly familiar.  No bad thing but the characters whilst interesting to look at and with some typically bonkers design … lacked personality.  Apart from Mary herself, an endearing yet clichéd character for this type of movie … the villains and various side characters just came off as typical, with the villain’s scheme also not fully explored. 

Yet a twist towards the end was welcome and brought the story full circle in a particularly satisfying way and add some fun action and plenty of energy – I still found a lot to enjoy.  Ghibli-lite, but as (hopefully) the start of a new era for Japanese animation, this is a promising start.

Verdict:  3 /5

Advertisements

When Marnie Was There


Viewed – 02 October 2016  Blu-ray

It’s with a heavy heart that I review this movie.  You see, it’s officially the final film of the famed and I’d say culturally important animation house, Studio Ghibli.  It’s a crying shame that the company chose to end, but at least I’m happy to say they’ve ended on a high with this wonderfully sweet and very heart-warming tale.

WhenMarnieWasThere

Anna, a teenage girl finds she can’t fit in with school or in general and is often sad and lost.  After an asthma attack and a visit to the doctor however, her parents send her to stay with her aunt and uncle for the summer.  Once there, still shy and struggling to enjoy the time away, she spots an old, abandoned mansion across the river and feels incredibly drawn to it.  One night on visiting the mansion she see’s a young girl and the two of them quickly bond.  But who is this girl?  Is she real or just part of Anna’s imagination?

AnnaDirected by Hiromasa Yonebayashi (Arrietty) and based on the book by Joan G Robinson, this gently observed story is full of the as expected gorgeous hand-drawn animation with obsessive attention to detail and captivating, quirky characters.  Anna is introverted and got her issues, whilst Marnie, the girl in the mansion is the exact opposite; free spirited and full of energy, but also hides her own troubles.  I really enjoyed the mystery of this, the fantasy elements reminding me of that classic children’s tale The Secret Garden, and it was fun having my own ideas where it was all going.  Yet the movie is clever enough to lead you in one direction then take a sudden turn that for me proved even more surprising … and rather powerful.  It also got quite creepy in places and for a moment I wondered just how dark this story was going to get.  Yet as a swansong for the famed studio, this may lack some of the absolute visual wonder of say Spirited Away but it’s more subtle yet no less engrossing story proved a worthy conclusion to an illustrious legacy.

I’m going to miss having new Ghibli to look forward to.  Although I’m grateful they’ve given us such works of art, like this to cherish for years to come.

Verdict:  4 /5

Arrietty


Viewed – 13 January 2012  Blu-ray

I have to admit, I am a great admirer of the movies from acclaimed Japanese animation masters Studio Ghibli, with Spirited Away and Ponyo being two of my favourites.  This latest entry tells the tale of a tiny girl, who along with her mother and father, live under the floor boards of a huge house, unbeknownst to the humans occupying it.  At night they creep out to scavenge for supplies in order to survive … but it’s not stealing, they are Borrowers, as in the classic children’s books by Mary Norton.  Stepping into the shoes of recently retired studio head Hayao Miyzaki is Hiromasa Yonebayashi in his directing debut, and let’s just say, the studio is in good hands.

From the start, this is magical stuff.  The way the world of Arrietty and her family is captured, from their perspective is stunning, with as expected from Ghibli, wonderfully detailed animation and gorgeous art, making you feel like you are right there with them in a huge world.  The sound design is also exceptional and greatly adds to the atmosphere.  Arrietty’s story, that of a little girl who befriends a human boy suffering from a heart disease, is touching and well observed.  The voice casting is generally good, especially from The Lovely Bones’ Saoirse Ronan in the lead, although the boy proves less interesting, with a very bland, wooden performance … which does lessen the movie’s emotional impact.  The story also lacks the sort of peril you might expect, and it’s not all that exciting either.  Even when the house keeper makes an alarming discovery, and a rescue is set into motion – you never feel anyone is in particular danger.

Don’t get me wrong however, this is a movie that despite such gripes, is still filled with wonderful imagination and bags of personality, as well as beautiful animation and a very memorable theme tune.  I found the ending to be a bit of a let down, but overall … this still enchanted the hell out of me.

Verdict:  3.5 /5