Studio Ghibli legend also says what modern children are missing that kids had back in his day.

Last December, Earwig and the Witch, Studio Ghibli’s first-ever CG anime, aired on Japanese public broadcaster NHK. On August 27, an enhanced version with additional footage will play in Japanese theaters, and ahead of its release Ghibli’s legendary co-founder Hayao Miyazaki has given an interview with distributor Toho with his thoughts on the studio’s first foray into entirely non-hand-drawn animation.

Miyazaki is credited with “planning” for Earwig and the Witch, and it was his personal fondness for the source-material novel by British author Diana Wynne Jones (who also wrote the original Howl’s Moving Castle novel) that got the ball rolling. “When I read it, it was very interesting,” Miyazaki recalls. “With Howl, once we got into actually making it, there were difficult parts. But with Earwig, it’s short, and very trenchant…[and] I thought ‘Ah, this is something we could make into animation.’”

Note: Throughout the course of his interview, Miyazaki uses the Japanese word “omoshiroi” several times. While the most direct translation is “interesting,” when talking about media the word can also convey the ideas of “fun,” “funny,” or “entertaining.”

▼ Trailer for Earwig and the Witch’s theatrical release

But despite his enthusiasm for an adaptation, Miyazaki didn’t direct Earwig and the Witch. “I’ve been made to carry the destiny of only making feature-length theatrical works, so I thought ‘I can’t direct Earwig,’” he explains. “So after that, I left the matter up to [veteran Ghibli producer Toshio] Suzuki.”

Suzuki, in turn, ended up tapping Miyazaki’s son, Goro, to direct the project. Given the generally unfavorable reception of Goro’s directorial debut, Tales from Earthsea, and the below-Ghibli-average response to his next project, From Up on Poppy Hill, Goro, whose relationship with his father is well-known to be complex and sometimes strained, was a bold choice. “I hadn’t been thinking of Goro at all,” Hayao says. “If anything, I thought it would be kind of impossible for him. But despite my thoughts, Earwig turned out to be rather interesting. I think he used CG skillfully. It’s really something. And I think they put together a good team.”

▼ The full interview

That’s surprisingly high praise coming from the elder Miyazaki, who’s said to have reacted to his first viewing of Earthsea with “It’s good that [Goro] made one movie. With that, he should stop.” Later in the interview, though, Hayao doubles down on the kind words for Earwig, and even has something nice to say about it being a CG anime instead of hand-drawn.

“It’s interesting. Being able to say, simply, ‘It’s interesting,’ really is a good thing. Not ‘This part of it is interesting,’ but just ‘It’s interesting.’

I think it properly conveys the energy of the original work…Earwig’s straightforward determination to not give in, her attitude of ‘I’m staying right here. Right here!’ That really comes through.

[Goro] hung on to his determination to make the movie, so it turned out really well. It really doesn’t matter that he’s my son, does it? It being CG, not drawn with pencils, set him free.”

That appreciation of Earwig’s determined nature is something that Suzuki also spoke of during the anime’s production, likening it to something he sees in Goro’s personality. It wasn’t the last of what the elder Miyazaki had to say about Earwig’s protagonist either. When asked about the appeal of the anime, he says:

“It would be great if I could express it in words, but it’s its stout heart…Earwig has a strength that doesn’t waver. She has a tough, long fight, but it’s not like she’s screaming and shouting. She’s flexible and tries all sorts of different methods…[but] there’s humor too. Something about that, to me…it’s so ironic, but also truly interesting.

In a way, it’s a picture book that shows how a family forms.”

Earwig’s characterization really does give the anime a unique charm, as she’s by turn feisty, friendly, diligent, and cunning, but never in a way that seems ingenuine or manipulative. Hayao thinks that audiences could honestly learn a lot from her.

“When faced with animosity, a lot of people emotionally collapse and shrink away. But Earwig doesn’t lose her brightness. She’s strong, but friendly. She finds a way get through difficulties…Our world is hard to live in, but no matter how hard it gets, you find a crack, and you pry it open. You make friends, and you go on living.

Isn’t that what’s most missing these days? That strength. We were all supposed to have that strength in difficult times. We were supposed to have different faces for different times, but it’s like we lost that. Now the thinking is that having a bewildered or unfriendly look on your face is honest, and that being honest like that is good. But that just makes it harder to live.”

Hayao’s works are often tinged with a nostalgia for his memories of the good old days, and the interview closes on the question of “Why do kids need that kind of strength now?”, to which he replies:

When I was a kid, all we could do is play in groups with other kids. There’d be all kinds of kids in the group. Some of them were arrogant, and some of them were dishonest. All sorts of things happened, but you had to get them to play with you. Sometimes you had to butter them up.

But kids today don’t have those kinds of experiences anymore. The only kids they play with are other kids their same age in the same preschool. They don’t play in the streets anymore. Their world has changed. They don’t have the chance to survive by being dishonest, telling lies, and doing all sorts of other things. So they end up turning into really pure-hearted, decent, delicate youths and boys. That’s what I think.”

All in all, though, the elder Miyazaki radiates a lot of warmth through the interview, and smiles with a contented look not unlike the one he showed when sipping cream soda at the Ghibli Museum’s recently renovated cafe. And as for his philosophizing on what it takes to make the most out of life, maybe we’ll see those ideas reflected in his upcoming anime movie How Do You Live?

Source: YouTube/東宝MOVIEチャンネル
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