The rumors of Studio Ghibli’s death have been at least slightly exaggerated. Although the Japanese animation giant behind masterpieces like Spirited Away, My Neighbor Totoro, and Grave of the Fireflies announced it would be closing in 2014, shortly after director and co-founder Hayao Miyazaki announced his retirement, recent news has suggested that Ghibli’s spirit is still burning bright.
First came the announcement that Miyazaki was coming out of retirement to direct Boro the Caterpillar, a 12-minute short film scheduled to premiere in mid-2017. (Like many of Ghibli’s shorts, this one will only be shown at the Studio Ghibli museum outside Tokyo, so you might want to start saving for that plane ticket now.) Now, via the release of a new trailer, we know that we can also expect a full-fledged feature, called Mary and the Witch’s Flower, this summer.
Mary and the Witch’s Flower won’t be a Studio Ghibli production, but it’s the next best thing: the inaugural release from Studio Ponoc, a new company founded by Ghibli’s Hiromasa Yonebayashi and Yoshiaki Nishimura and employing several of its key animators. Like many of Ghibli’s films, it’s an adaptation of a classic children’s book, Mary Stewart’s The Littlest Broomstick. Yonebayashi, who helmed Ghibli’s The Secret World of Arrietty, will direct.
In the Telegraph, Robbie Collin reports that Studio Ponoc’s name comes from the Serbo-Croatian word for “midnight,” a reference, as Nishimura explains, to “the moment when an old day ends and a new one begins.” (Studio Ghibli’s name was also taken from a foreign word, the Italian term for a hot desert wind.) He goes on to explain how Yonebayashi, who goes by the nickname Maro, expanded and adapted Stewart’s original story into a modern-day fable:
Using Stewart’s original story as a guide, Maro teased out the story, adding an entirely new second act that plays to Mary’s strengths as a young girl whose courage and persistence, as opposed to magic powers, sees her overcome the danger at hand.
Nishimura describes it as a film for children who are “moving into a 21st century that’s different from the one their parents imagined for them.” He goes on: “I think we all had a vision of what the world would be like, but it’s not the one we’re moving into. So what filmmakers should say at a time when people are losing hope – and what kind of film might help restore it in our children – are big themes for right now.”
Although Mary and the Witch’s Flower looks much like a Ghibli film, Nishimura’s reference to “moving into [the] 21st century” makes for an intriguing break with the studio’s frequent appeals to nostalgia. Miyazaki’s movies often yearned, achingly, for a simpler, less industrialized era, while Mary seems poised to directly address the world we live in now.
More good news for Ghibli fans: After the success of its Spirited Away screenings early this month, Fathom Events will bring Miyazki’s Princess Mononoke back to theaters in January, and the studio’s 1993 movie Ocean Waves will get its long-overdue first U.S. release beginning Dec. 28, courtesy of GKids.