Earwig and the Witch
Kokoro Hirasawa, Shinobu Terajima, Etsushi Toyokawa, Gaku Hamada
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…there’s a lot to admire here, but it’s also quite slight in the end.
The latest film from Studio Ghibli, their first since 2014’s When Marnie Was There, could be mistaken, from the title alone, as a riff on John Cameron Mitchell’s Hedwig and the Angry Inch. There’s even a rock band featured prominently that could have walked straight out of a drag club. However, Earwig and the Witch couldn’t really be any further from that 2001 cult film.
For the first time, Ghibli utilise computer animation, adapting Diana Wynne Jones’s 2011 book about Earwig, a wily young girl brought up in an orphanage until she is adopted by witch Bella Yagga and sorcerer The Mandrake. Now, you’d assume that witches and sorcerers living together would mean all sorts of bad news, however, these guys are all about coming up with spells to win dog showing contests and writing novels, rather than cursing their enemies – which they can also do, it’s just not their priority right now. Instead, they adopt Earwig to help them with chores, like picking out spell ingredients from the yard or crushing rat bones; but she is keen to know more… Things open up for her when she teams up with Thomas, Bella Yagga’s black cat.
It’s a simple tale, easily understood by children of most ages, and the message around accepting difference, even when there are preconceptions, is something to savour. However, viewers expecting the usual flights of fancy of most Ghibli films, including the other Diana Wynne Jones adaptation, Howl’s Moving Castle, will most likely be disappointed by Earwig’s simplicity and episodic nature. Directed by Gorô Miyazaki (From Up on Poppy Hill) and supervised by his famous father Hayao, there’s a lot to admire here, but it’s also quite slight in the end.
You don’t get swept away by Earwig as much as appreciate the Ghiblian character design and world building, and the juxtaposition between the macabre and the cute. The Japanese twist on an English story is also refreshing, bringing a nice balance between the harsh and the soft, but it really doesn’t reach beyond the surface. It’s ultimately a welcome, if not outstanding, addition to the Studio Ghibli canon and nothing like John Cameron Mitchell’s groundbreaking Hedwig, but in the words of another classic movie, ‘you know, for kids.’