Which is Witch? Mary and the Witch's Wish-List

Mary and the Witch’s Flower is a film I keep forgetting about. It’s not that it doesn’t look appealing, because it does. It’s not that it doesn’t look like it’ll be good, because it does. It’s not even that it’s not on my must-see list of 2018, because it is. It’s that its promotional material rode the waves like a surfer: keep waiting for a big announcement, surf big and proceed to wait for another. That kind of investment isn’t enough to excite me for more than a few hours at once.

So when I looked through Rotten Tomatoes’s website for upcoming releases, a practice that’s become ingrained in my mind, and saw the film was slated for a North American release at the end of January, I was surprised. Needless to say, I was also excited. But that excitement turned to concern when I realized I still had lingering questions that’d yet to be resolved. It’s only fitting that I, therefore, address them before the movie, yet again, slips my mind.

Firstly, I hope Mary and the Witch’s Flower is good. And by “good”, I mean “really good”. I know it’ll be good by default, it’s the director of The Secret World of Arrietty and When Marnie Was There, but I don’t know if the film will instantly click. Maro’s work relies heavily on atmosphere and character interactions over narrative refinement, and that leads to an end-result that feels slow and unimpressive initially. If you want proof, here’s my review of When Marnie Was There. Have a look and tell me it doesn’t scream initial disappointment.

So I hope that this film wows me on first go around. In the same breath, I hope the film also has legs and resonates on re-watch. This is something that’s strengthened my appreciation for Hiromasa Yonebayashi’s work over time, as he makes films that are in it for the long-run. Call it “The Blade Runner Effect”, if you will. If Mary and the Witch’s Flower is to succeed long-term, it needs to do that.

I hope the narrative is strong. As much as I liked The Secret World of Arrietty and When Marnie Was There, their stories were their weakest element. Not that they were bad, but it felt like another pass at the script would’ve helped. Then again, part of that could’ve been Keiko Niwa, as, while a good moment writer, she lacks a cohesive flow. I’m not sure who’s writing this movie, but I hope it doesn’t have that problem.

I hope the visual flair of the movie is consistently good. I wouldn’t say this with Studio Ghibli, since even their early-features looked amazing, but Studio Ponoc’s still relatively new with much to prove. It doesn’t help that Mary the Witch’s Flower looks to be borrowing from the director’s former studio, almost to a lazy degree. It worries me, and I pray my concerns prove wrong.

I hope the movie offers something new to the magical fantasy table. Trailers have made it seem like a Harry Potter knock-off, right down to the wizarding school element, and that reeks of unoriginality. It’s not unexpected, Harry Potter’s a big influence on modern magical fantasy, but it’s something to watch out for. There’s a line between paying homage and ripping something off, and this is worryingly close to the latter. It probably won’t matter in the end, but I’m concerned.

I hope the music, both score and soundtrack-wise, is good. This is something Mary and the Witch’s Flower’s direct predecessors didn’t have to worry about, but it’s important that this movie excel there too. And not simply in an “I’m imitating Studio Ghibli’s style” kind of way, it needs its own voice. The trailers suggest a running Leif Motif already, which is a step in the right direction, but that’s only a start.

I hope this movie maintains its own identity separate from its origins. I don’t care if Maro worked on two Studio Ghibli movies before this one. I don’t care if most of the staff were originally Studio Ghibli employees. I don’t even care if this film looks like it could’ve been made by Studio Ghibli. All I care about is this movie feeling unique.

I hope the public doesn’t forever think of this film as “Studio Ghibli-lite”. I’m tired of the comparisons. I’m tired of the shared legacy. I’m even tired of making comparisons myself. Because Studio Ponoc isn’t, and shouldn’t be, Studio Ghibli’s younger brother only, and neither should this movie feel that way.

I hope this movie finds its target audience. It’s a crime that so many anime films, especially the great ones, never sell in theatres because of the stigma against anime in the West. Because they don’t deserve to be “those Chinese fucking things”, as one Academy member so aptly put a few years ago. (I’m still appalled by the racism in that remark!) Even if Mary and the Witch’s Flower never sells on-par with American animation, I still would like it to gain the traction that anime has worked so hard to achieve for decades.

Above all else, I hope to see this movie in theatres. You laugh, but The Boy and the Beast never had a proper theatre run in Canada. It fell through a licensing dispute, got picked up by another distributor and was released on home video instead. That really bummed me out, and I’d like that to not happen with Mary and the Witch’s Flower. I’m not gunning for a Best Animated Feature nod at The Oscars-something that, if I’m being honest, will probably never happen-I simply want to appreciate it on the big-screen where it belongs.

Until then, I hope my hopes come true for…what was the movie again? (I kid! But seriously…)


  1. Great piece! :) Honestly, I completely forgot about this movie lol. Definitely gonna look out for it when it comes out.

    1. It's easy to forget about this movie, which is upsetting because it genuinely looks good...


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