Director Gorō Miyazaki discusses Studio Ghibli’s new 3D-CGI animated feature, Earwig and the Witch, with STACK.

Often regarded as the “Disney of the East”, Japan’s Studio Ghibli has become a multi-billion dollar industry unto itself and is responsible for creating some of the most powerful and endearing animated films of all time.

Founded in 1985 by the legendary directors Hayao Miyazaki, Isao Takahata, and producer Toshio Suzuki, the studio’s extensive catalogue of films include the profoundly haunting Grave of the Fireflies, Kiki’s Delivery Service, Howl’s Moving Castle and the Academy Award-winning Spirited Away, amongst many more.

For the first time in the studio’s 35-year history, Ghibli’s latest film, Earwig and the Witch – about an orphaned girl who is adopted by a witch and flung into a world of mystery and magic – has been created entirely with 3D computer generated imagery, and its director, Gorō Miyazaki (son of Hayao), tells STACK that there was no apprehension in breaking away from the studio’s trademark animated medium.

Gorō Miyazaki

“While Earwig and the Witch was being made in 3DCG in the studio, the cel-animated How Will You Live? was also under production at the same time. There was a sense that the two different styles co-existed rather than clashed,” he explains.

Gorō had previously directed Ghibli’s television series Ronja and the Robber’s Daughter, where he was first able to dip his toes in CGI, and we were curious to know what inspired him to take that medium even further, with Earwig and the Witch encapsulating an almost claymation/stop-motion quality.

“After choosing 3DCG as my production medium, I spent a long time thinking about what kind of look to give it,” he muses. “Photo-real drawings can be created using 3DCG, however, that isn’t what we wanted from the technique. In terms of the types of perceptions that are associated with manga and cel-animations, we figured that it would be similar to that of puppetoons. I think this is because there’s a ‘handmade’ feel to it. I would say I was influenced by Aardman [Animations] and LAIKA.”

To describe Ghibli’s fans as fervid would be an understatement. Considering that the studio’s tried and true formula has always been traditional cel-animation, breaking away from what fans know and love was undoubtedly a risky endeavour. So, did Gorō feel any pressure in creating something that could potentially be divisive?

“More often than not, my feelings of excitement tend to be stronger than the pressure whenever I embark on something new,” he says. “I also have a tendency to forget about thinking of any risks that have been brought up. It was much the same when I directed my first movie. I can also say that on my directing debut I was not given a warm welcome at all. As such, I did not feel any sort of indicative pressure. What I viewed as something that put pressure on me was whether I would be able to create a film in 3DCG that I approved of, and would not be inferior to any previous Studio Ghibli films.”

As to what his famous father, Hayao, would have thought about making a 3DCG Ghibli film, Gorō says, “He appears to believe he wouldn’t be good at it.”

Almost all of Studio Ghibli’s films have been released with alternative English dubs, often featuring some of Hollywood’s biggest names, such as Anne Hathaway (Kiki’s Delivery Service), Michael Keaton (Porco Rosso), Liam Neeson (Ponya) and Tom Holland (The Secret World of Arrietty). And with Richard E. Grant included in Earwig and the Witch’s dubbed voice cast, Gorō explains his part in that process.

“While I did provide some input with regards to casting and nuances in the script when it came to the English version, I generally let others handle it. I think it’s an absolutely fascinating and fun experience to watch a film dubbed in the language of the place it’s being released, regardless of the language.”

Not one to rest on his laurels, Gorō has his hands on various other Ghibli-related ventures. “I’m currently working on the construction and displays for the Studio Ghibli Park scheduled for opening next year. I’m also currently involved in the Earwig and the Witch exhibition that will be held soon at the Ghibli Museum.

“Finally, what I’m putting most of my focus into is regaining all of the energy I lost during the making of Earwig and the Witch,” he laughs.

Earwig and the Witch is out on June 2 – PRE-ORDER your copy now