Director: Hiromasa Yonebayashi
Words – Joe H.
The dearly loved Studio Ghibli announced it was stopping production in 2014, with Hayao Miyazaki announcing his retirement, and now with the recent passing of Studio Ghibli co-founder Isao Takahata (director of Grave of the Fireflies and The Tale of Princess Kaguya), you would be forgiven for thinking that the future of this beloved world of animation was coming to an end.
With Ponoc translated as ‘midnight’ – the moment of the end of one day and the start of another, it feels as though we’re seeing a new chapter here in this widely celebrated foundation of Japanese animation with this release from the Studio Ghibli successor, the debut film from Studio Ponoc.
Our story follows Mary, as she stays with relatives in a quaint countryside town surrounded by scenic forest over the summer. Through chance and curiosity (and the help of a black cat), she stumbles across what reveals itself to be a magical flower, and then drawn towards discovering a lost broomstick.
These events take Mary high above the clouds to a school of magic, where following some miscommunication and accidental displays of ability, finds herself its newest pupil. She is overwhelmed and joyous as the school believe her to be a once-in-a-lifetime magical talent, but as her possession of the witch’s flower is revealed, she finds that all is not what it appears to be in this fantastical world, and is caught up in a historic tale of power where only her courage and some new found friendships will see her return home.
The animation in this feature is expressive, simple yet detailed in the right places, and beautifully fluid during the more action-filled sequences.
There is slightly more than just the feel of past Studio Ghibli films here, in its story, characters and environments – from Spirited Away to Castle In The Sky, Kiki’s Delivery Service and Ponyo, you can almost point out and reference elements you’ve seen before – whether this is to evoke a feeling of familiarity and draw us into this world, act as a tribute, or simply because these animators (having come from Studio Ghibli) have so much of this ingrained within them that they know nothing other than creating more of the same worlds we’ve all become so attached to, is something which should please fans if not create a yearning for more.
Even the Studio Ponoc logo itself appearing before the film, bears a striking resemblance to that of Studio Ghibli’s – only apart from Totoro, we see a profile of the film’s title character – but for as long as there are those working in this new Japanese animation studio that want to create these worlds for us to escape to, this is all only to be celebrated.
A film which will feel familiar to Studio Ghibli fans, and one to be enjoyed by all. An enchanting world and a heartfelt story.