[Review] Mary and the Witch’s Flower: Can Yonebayashi Kill the Father?


After Arrietty: Le petit monde des pilardeurs in 2010 then Souvenirs de Marnie in 2014, the latest opus of Hirosama Yonebayashi’s work, Mary and the Witch’s Flower, is now visible in French theaters. The opportunity to see if the former disciple of the genius Hayao Miyazaki has finally managed to emancipate himself from his master to finally offer the original and personal work that we are entitled to expect from him.

Should we kill the father? Theorized by Sigmund Freud, the concept of the Oedipus complex is defined as the unconscious desire to eliminate the parent of the same sex and conversely to maintain a Often used in cinema, especially through the famous final twist of The Empire Against Attack , this theory has also become an inexhaustible source of inspiration for analysis to understand authors evolving in the field of artistic creation. In this context, how can we envision Mary and the Witch’s Flower in the light of its economic, aesthetic and narrative issues? Let’s start from the beginning.

Founded in 1985 by Hayao Miyazaki and Isao Takahata, studio Ghibli has offered over the past three decades some of the masterpieces of contemporary animation cinema. This is evidenced, for example, by the sublime My Neighbor Totoro released in 1988, whose creature featured in the film has become the logo of the firm. Marked for life by the imprint of the director of the Castle in the sky , the studio has seen the birth of many talents, including that of Hiromasa Yonebayashi. Director of three feature films today, the man is seen in particular as one of Miyazaki’s young disciples and heirs.

Thus, after directing two films for Ghibli (Arrietty and Souvenirs de Marnie ) which remained in the almost unsurpassable wake of the Japanese master, the filmmaker joined the brand new Studio Ponoc in 2015. A company of animated films having as much for goal the continuation of the work carried out by Ghibli as to launch the hoped-for revival of the latter. In this context, Yonebayashi’s latest effort could be seen as the film of artistic emancipation as well as the promise of a future animated cinema aware of its heritage but bringing saving changes. What then is it really?

Mary and the Witch’s Flower tells the story of a young girl, Mary, who has just moved in during the summer holidays with her great-aunt in the small village of Red Manor. One day, when she struggles to have fun on her own, the child discovers a mysterious flower that leads her to enter the magical school of Endor. A renowned place in the world of magic and rising above the sky and the clouds. Through the flower, Mary also acquires overkill magical powers overnight, focusing the full attention of the academy director, and the power of the plant as well as the truth of the girl’s origins will prove to be small. little by little. From this starting point, however open to all possibilities, Yonebayashi will begin by signing a first act little embodied.

It is thus difficult at first to feel a real empathy for the main character and his apparent loneliness (his parents are absent but have not abandoned him either). Also, Mary doesn’t like her red hair. In short, we will have known more interesting internal conflicts. Therefore, from this starting point, what should be the narrative heart of the story, namely the initiation of a young child seeking her place in the world, will struggle throughout the rest of the screening to express herself. fully. Blame it on too simplistic writing in the construction of its heroine. This does not seem to evolve until the end of the film after having braved a few adventures far from renewing the genre or the often marked out scheme of the Hero of a Thousand and One Faces by Joseph Cambpell.

Thus, the moral scope of the work, as agreed as it is mastered, struggles to leave a memorable memory of Mary. The latter finally finding meaning in her life not thanks to a supernatural plant but to the help of her past and her present-future (the character of the young boy Peter). In other words, what the protagonist learns during his journey, but which is never really felt emotionally, is that personal fulfillment can only happen through the agreement between a small group of courageous characters and the refusal of the to be able to.

The weight of the inheritance
What disappoints the most about the sight of Mary and the Witch’s Flower is her blatant lack of risk-taking. Although it is necessary to measure all the economic stakes of the recent Studio Ponoc and understand its possible reluctance to leave the comfort zone established by Ghibli’s specifications, we can only deplore the lack of originality of the work. Never managing to shed a legacy that is too bulky and too difficult to match, Yonebayashi’s film even eyes the side of JK Rowling’s universe by quickly moving away from it to better fall back into a by-product stamped with Miyazaki. Whether it is about the story or the different designs offered by the film, we can only think in turn of the monuments of the Japanese filmmaker.

Spirited Away thus permanently rubs shoulders with the too showy influences of Kiki’s Delivery Service or The Castle in the Sky. All completed with a not necessarily very relevant point, whether it is about his treatment or his initial idea, on scientific drifts.

Resteny then the inherent qualities of the director and his model. It is thus difficult to reproach the filmmaker for the technical quality of his animation and the know-how, certainly never transcendent, but always applied with his rhythm and his narrative coherence. We will remember in passing some generous visions such as anthropomorphic animals cooking meat or a protean monster as frightening as disturbing.

Genius is not the norm. And never has been. It would therefore be unfair to simply reduce Mary and the Witch’s Flower to a by-product inherited from the Myazaki era. Because without ever rising to the level of pure talent of the director of Howl’s Moving Castle and his complete vision of art, Yonebayashi nevertheless shows himself capable of offering technically flawless entertainment. Failing to develop a real purpose as demanding as that of its peers, the film prefers to opt for the option of the very (too) classic story able to give free rein to a wonderfully phantasmagorical imagination.

But beyond his recurring narrative problems and present since his beginnings, the director seems powerless at the idea of ​​offering a fundamentally personal and original work. The essence of the reproach being contained here: not in the legitimate observation of the incapacity of the director to do better than his overwhelming model, but in his refusal (and his fear?) To stand out from it. Therefore, after three respectable feature films but devoid of a real identity, it might be time for Yonebayashi to kill the father, and to consider, once and for all, his own path.