Anime icon says “I won’t watch it,” but at least offers words of encouragement to director of Mary and the Witch’s Flower.
Summer is traditionally the season for prestige anime movie releases in Japan, and one of this year’s most anticipated films is Mary and the Witch’s Flower. Based on British author Mary Stewart’s novel The Little Broomstick, the big draw is that many of the people involved with Mary and the Witch’s Flower are veterans from exalted anime production house Studio Ghibli.
▼ The newest trailer for Mary and the Witch’s Flower
Most noticeably, the film is directed by Hiromasa Yonebayashi, who rose to fame occupying the director’s chair for The Secret World of Arrietty and When Marnie Was There. Once thought to be a potential successor to Hayao Miyazaki, Yonebayashi left Ghibli in 2014, in the wake of the company going dormant.
Mary is the first film from newly formed Studio Ponoc, a company founded by Marnie producer Yoshiaki Nishimura. Joining Yonebayashi and Nishimura on the anime’s staff are fellow Ghibli alumni composer Takatsugu Muramatsu and screenwriter Riko Sakaguchi.
While Mary won’t hit Japanese theaters until July 8, it’s already finished, and Yonebayashi recently visited Studio Ghibli to show the completed film to his former coworkers. However, during a promotional event held in Tokyo on June 22, Yonebayashi revealed that Miyazaki refused to watch it.
“[Miyazaki] said ‘I won’t watch it,’ and he didn’t,” Yonebayashi recalled with a rueful chuckle.
Still, Miyazaki wasn’t completely devoid of kindness upon seeing Yonebayashi again. “You’ve really put a lot of effort into the movie,” he told the younger director, even without seeing his completed work. Yonebayashi also recalls that when he first told Miyazaki and Studio Ghibli co-founder/producer Toshio Suzuki about his plan to adapt Stewart’s novel, they told him to stay determined and true to his vision.
While Miyazaki passed on the advance screening, Suzuki and Isao Takahata, director of Ghibli films including Grave of the Fireflies and The Tale of the Princess Kaguya took Yonebayashi up on his offer. Both were impressed, with Suzuki remarking to Nishimura “So this is the sort of movie you can make when you’re not under the influence of working at Ghibli.” Takahata, meanwhile, gave his sarcastic evaluation as “It left me with a good impression. But if I liked it, I’m worried that doesn’t bode well for it.”
Yonebayashi didn’t expand on why Miyazaki refused to watch Mary and the Witches Flower. In his defense, the screening was held at Miyazaki’s workplace, and as a man who’s famously dedicated to his job, perhaps he was absorbed in activities related to his own current project. Or maybe this was another manifestation of the odd dichotomy that while Miyazaki himself can’t seem to stop making anime (having come out of retirement no fewer than three times at this point), he doesn’t often have much nice to say about Japanese animation made by other people.
Whatever Miyazaki’s reason, Yonebayashi doesn’t seem to have been bothered by the refusal. “Making the film took longer than I’d originally thought,” he said, “and [Miyazaki] was kind enough to be concerned, saying ‘Are you really going to be able to complete it?’ So I was very glad to be able to tell him that it’s finally finished.”