Studio Ghibli, led by legendary filmmaker Hayao Miyazaki, has practically perfected the art of 2D animation. So, I admit, I’ve spent the last few years dreading the company’s first 3D CG animated film, Earwig and the Witch. Like the Stink Spirit of As if by magic, I could feel the impending impact of an all-CG Ghibli movie on the horizon. What would that mean for the studio’s notoriously detailed artistic process? How will this shape Ghibli in the future? After finally seeing Earwig and the Witch on HBO Max, I’m even more worried.
Directed by Goro Miyazaki, son of Hayao, Ear piercing is a lousy, half-baked movie filled with unkind characters. It lacks the magic of a typical Ghibli entry on almost every level: the CG character animation is stiff and lifeless, with facial expressions that wouldn’t be out of place in low-cost children’s YouTube videos. The music, composed by Satoshi Takebe, is for the most part forgettable, far from what we would expect from Ghibli regular Joe Hisaishi. (It’s all the more damning since the music is supposed to play a central role in the story!) And even though it’s adapted from a Dianna Wynne Jones novel, the narrative feels incomplete, as if Miyazaki is running out of time. and money before having to ship a final Cut.
The film follows a young girl, Earwig, who was left in an orphanage as a baby and who has grown up to be a rowdy child who controls everyone around her. After being adopted by an old witch and a mysterious warlock, she begins to learn more about herself and her magical powers. There you go, this is the movie. Animation quality aside, Earwig herself is a bit boring, lacking the charm of Ghibli’s usual courageous heroines. She is less ““and more so a child who focuses on manipulating others for his own ends.
For any other studio, a movie like Ear piercing could just be a dud which they move quickly. But as the first CG entry from a legendary animation house, it’s hugely disappointing. To be fair, the film was originally produced for Japanese television. And while I couldn’t find an exact production budget, you can tell it was a far cry from the $ 20-30 million the studio typically spends on Elder Miyazaki features. So in a way Earwig and the Witch didn’t have much luck to start. But I can’t help but feel that the utter apathy of Hayao Miyazaki and Ghibi’s more senior crew is to blame.
“I was the only one among the people of Ghibli who knew this method of creation, so I was able to move the project forward without consulting anyone,” Goro Miyazaki said at a press conference according to (via the ). “Hayao Miyazaki told me to go ahead, and producer Toshio Suzuki encouraged me by saying that it seemed like a good idea, but after that I was left on my own. was basically abandoned, so I did the anime with young staff and didn’t consult with the old people at all. “
Even after working on a short film (Boro the caterpillar), Hayao Miyazaki never got used to CG movies as a medium. And there’s a good chance you’ve seen its abrupt removal from AI-based animation, following a demo of a spooky zombie creature from Dwango’s AI lab. “Whoever created this has no idea what pain is,” he said after telling the story of a disabled friend. “I’m completely disgusted. If you really want to do scary stuff, you can go ahead and do it. I would never wish to incorporate this technology into my work at all. I firmly believe that this is an insult to the life itself. “
I wouldn’t go so far to describe Earwig and the Witch. There’s an art attempt, but it’s marred by poor storytelling and an amateurish approach to CG. The film’s backgrounds are more lush and detailed than the character models, but that’s because the artists at Ghibli drew them by hand, before digitizing and adding CG elements, according to with Goro Miyazaki. Ironically, the only standout element of Ear piercing was produced using its most traditional method.
Don’t call me a CG hater. I’ve loved most of Pixar’s films and have great respect for them as a medium. But if Ghibli were to go down that road, it would have been better to explore something completely new and experimental. Consider how Ghibli’s other genius director Isao Takahata used delicate watercolor animation in . He also directed the studio’s first digital animated film, My neighbors the Yamadas, which is still unlike anything else from Ghibli (or most other animated films). Even Hayao Miyazaki isn’t using CG sparingly to improve his films, especially in Removed as if by magic and Howl’s moving castle. (Although he ended up reverting to a more hand-drawn work with the Ponyo on the cliff and The wind picks up.)
After the extremely negative reaction at Earwig and the Witch, I don’t expect Ghibli to return in a CG movie anytime soon. At this point, the studio is wrapping up Hayao Miyazaki’s next feature film, How do you live?, based on . I just hope the business learns something from the creative failure of Ear piercing. If they want to embrace CG, you better follow in Pixar’s footsteps – go big, go to the movies – instead of half-committing to a low-budget TV production.