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Earwig and the Witch Studio Ghibli
Courtesy of Studio Ghibi

Watch Studio Ghibli’s first full CGI film Earwig and the Witch trailer

It’s directed by Goro Miyazaki, the famed Japanese animating house’s founder Miyazaki’s son

Studio Ghibli’s long-awaited first full foray into the world of CGI has finally landed in the form of the Earwig and the Witch trailer. 

Previously reported to be titled Aya and the Witch, and also promoted as Aya to Majo, the film is directed by Goro Miyazaki (the son of famed Ghibli founder Hayao). The story is based on British author Diana Wynne Jones’s book of the same name, which came out in 2011. Howl’s Moving Castle, one of Ghibli’s most celebrated films, was also based on Wynne Jones’ 1986 eponymous fantasy book. The trailer introduces us to Earwig and the Witch’s protagonist, an effervescent young orphan named Earwig. Set in 1990s England, we see that Earwig has been whisked away from the orphanage she loves by some strange foster parents, who turn out to be the evil witch Bella Yaga. Forced to live in her haunted house, Earwig must use her wits and smarts (with the help of a talking cat) to escape and triumph over Bella Yaga.

Fans have been patiently waiting for a more detailed view of the first fully CGI movie from Ghibli, after a set of images from the movie were dropped, as well as small snatches of plot. The film was scheduled to premiere at the 2020 Cannes Film Festival, before the event was subsequently cancelled during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

The reaction so far has been mixed from fans, unsure if this experiment in CGI really works for the animating house, known for its beautiful animations done entirely by hand. Earwig definitely has all the markers of Ghibli though – our heroine recalls the spunk and personality of the likes of Kiki from Kiki’s Delivery Service or Spirited Away’s Chihiro. The childlike wonder and fantastical energy also gives it a distinctly Ghibli feel, while the CGI action still feels in line with the Ghibli catalogue’s drawing style.

The cast of Earwig and the Witch features Shinobu Terajima, Etsushi Toyokawa, Gaku Hamada, and Kokoro Hirasawa.

Previous films like Spirited Away and Princess Mononoke utilised CGI in some of its earliest forms for some more complicated moments in moderation. In Spirited Away, there are glimpses of CGI in some of the bigger, flashier scenes, like when Haku and Sen run through the field of flowers. Princess Mononoke is reportedly 10 per cent CGI, with the rest being painstakingly hand drawn. Hayazaki was adamant about staying true to the careful craft, particularly with Princess Mononoke – the scene where Tatarigami first appears apparently took animators more than a year and a half to get perfect.

Miyazaki, when previously shown an animation done by artificial intelligence, even said: “I strongly feel that this is an insult to life itself”.

“Whoever creates this stuff has no idea what pain is whatsoever. I am utterly disgusted. If you really want to make creepy stuff you can go ahead and do it. (But) I would never wish to incorporate this technology into my work at all.” 

Across the last year, Studio Ghibli has been sharing artwork from its giant back catalogue of feature films, shorts, and TV productions. The first batch of stills were released for fans in September, with another 300 images shared the following month, and another 250 most recently. The incredible, never-before-seen stills are cherrypicked from across the Ghibli legend: Porco Rosso, witchy coming-of-age film Kiki’s Delivery Service, Pom Poko, TV film Ocean Waves, and other classics like the beloved My Neighbour Totoro.

Earwig and the Witch will now debut on Japanese broadcaster NHK on December 30. A dubbed English version is expected in 2021, with an intended run in US cinemas, pandemic measures permitting.

Watch the trailer below.