EARWIG AND THE WITCH
Director: Gorô Miyazaki
Screenplay: Keiko Niwa & Emi Gunji, based on the eponymous book by Diana Wynne Jones.
Runtime: 82 mins.
Australian release date: 4 February 2021.
Gorô Miyazaki is the son of Hayao Miyazaki, the manga maestro responsible for many of Studio Ghibli’s greatest hits. Now, Miyazaki the Younger has directed the studio’s first computer-generated animation, Earwig And The Witch; it’s also the first new film from the acclaimed studio since When Marnie Was There in 2014. It is based on a book by British author Diana Wynne Jones, who wrote the source material of the Oscar-nominated Howl’s Moving Castle, directed by Miyazaki the Elder in 2004. In fact, Hayao had planned to make this film, too, but decided to let his son do it because he wasn’t at ease with the techniques of CG animation. Instead, he took a producing role, so this new manga still feels very much like a Miyazaki creation - I guess you could say it’s a family affair.
Somewhere in the English countryside, a baby girl is left on the front door of an orphanage by a beautiful woman with a mane of flaming red hair (Indonesian actress and singer Sherina Munaf), clutching a note and a cassette tape (remember them?). The note says her name is Earwig (Kokoro Hirasawa) but the matron decides to call her Erica Wigg. She grows up to be a spirited child, quite happy to spend her days at the orphanage in the company of a small boy she’s nicknamed ‘Custard’. She’s comfortable there because she’s learnt how to charm all the adults so that she always gets what she wants. Consequently, Earwig is none too pleased when, at the age of nine, a strange couple pick her out for adoption. The woman, Bella Yaga (the award-winning actress Shinobu Terajima), is a witch and the man, Mandrake (Etsushi Toyokawa), a sorcerer, and they only want the girl to act as a servant cum housemaid to Bella Yaga. Earwig’s only friend is a talking cat called Thomas (Gaku Hamada) and together they realise that Earwig is a witch, too, and the only way to escape the house is if she prepares one of the spells from Bella Yaga’s compendium of spells. The longer she is in the house, though, the more the little girl realises that there is a strange connection between Mandrake and the flame-haired beauty who left Earwig at the orphanage.
For the most part, Earwig And The Witch is (ahem) enchanting, although the CG animation takes a moment to adjust to, especially if you are a fan of Studio Ghibli’s usual in-house style. Earwig is a manipulative little minx but she’s as cute as a button and you can’t help but be drawn to her, even when she’s being naughty. Her adoptive parents are suitably creepy, especially Mandrake, who very small viewers might find a bit too scary at times. The script is engaging for both young and old, until… and it’s a major flaw… the very abrupt ending. You are literally left shaking your head, wondering where the rest of the movie is, or at least expecting a sign to pop up saying “Stay tuned for part 2”. It’s weird but not in a good way, whereas the preceding 80 or so minutes have been weird in a much better way. One can’t help asking what Diana Wynne Jones would have made of it because Earwig And The Witch feels unfinished.
NB. A version of the film dubbed into English is being simultaneously released.