Gorō Miyazaki. Not necessarily the first name ending in Miyazaki that comes to mind when you think of the legendary Japanese animation house Studio Ghibli, yet he has had a few notable works; Up on Poppy Hill is a personal favorite. While 2020 was certainly a difficult year for everyone, and the film industry is no exception, our fun-loving and machine-like working friends over at the studio with the dashing creature as their mascot still managed to release a feature. Earwig and the Witch follows a very similar structure as most of this iconic company’s previous endeavors: you have a lovable child protagonist with a curious mind and contagious snark, a grounded yet slightly fantastic world, and an onslaught of unique characters that offer a detour to our simple quest. However, there is one twist everyone was biting their nails, wracked with nerves for… it’s 3D.
Like Father Like Son
The history of this father-son pair has always been one that fans of Ghibli, and animation as a whole have found very perplexing. When Gorō premiered his first film Tales from Earthsea the senior Miyazaki was not pleased as he walked out of the theatre for a quick cigarette break he mumbled “I saw my own child. He hasn’t become an adult. That’s all.” and “It’s good that he made one movie. With that, he should stop [making movies].”
However with this new project, Earwig, Hayao seems to be far more enthusiastic, which in his terms is content at best, as he said “The preview was fun to watch. It’s fun and that’s a good thing.” This is such a well-known dynamic within the film world that many fans and critics even speculate that Ponyo was an apology for choosing film over fatherhood.
Pitfall by Pitfall
Now, this is not a tabloid and it’s frankly none of our business, however, this relationship seeps into the artwork, and as such must be addressed. Earwig being such a pivot into uncharted waters that one must wonder how much being a maverick in the field and setting your own legacy must go into account when making this film. If that is the case, as I presume it is, this is a thin veil and more time was certainly devoted to attempting something different rather than making a well-executed and interesting film.
I’m not going to sit here and make you read my passive-aggressive thoughts towards this abomination as I am a lifelong Ghibli-loyalist; I can’t in good faith do that. I’ll put it simply… this is a sin. Gorō’s newest effort seems to be either a.) a half-hazard experiment in bridging the classic storytelling of old school Ghibli with a new generation of animation or b.) a spiteful attempt to discredit the years of hard work in a revenge plot against a neglectful father. In either case, almost every decision made while making this feels disrespectful to a multi-generational legacy.
As the younger Miyazaki attempts to work the method that this indelible studio has been fine-tuning for years into a new medium, he spends so much time reworking the animation and story-boarding this he forgot to write a proper story. Earwig and the Witch takes all of the Ghibli tropes and iconography to get life-long fans in seats without fully understanding what has made them so revolutionary and special for the past three and a half decades. Simply having a talking sardonic black cat or a villainously ominous adult figure with defined features isn’t enough to capture the childlike wonder and sense of freedom that comes with a masterwork like Kiki’s Delivery Service or Princess Mononoke.
Furthermore, Earwig just feels so corporate, and believe me, nothing is sadder than saying a Ghibli film feels as such. The potential with this was promising; the director behind Up on Poppy Hill, a writer of Howl’s Moving Castle and When Marnie Was There, and veteran voice actors backing this, yet they couldn’t quite make it work. Hopefully, this is just a fluke and not the sign of the times to come because if that were the case we would all be losing something timeless and pure.
Have you seen Earwig and the Witch yet? Did you enjoy it? What is your favorite Studio Ghibli film? Make sure to let us know!
Earwig and the Witch is available to stream on HBO Max.
Watch Earwig and the Witch
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