For more than 35 years, Studio Ghibli has been delighting audiences around the world with carefully crafted 2D animations. From the picture book by My neighbor Totoro to the fantastic slaughter of Princess Mononoke and the surreal, line-painted style of The story of Princess KaguyaEvery Ghibli film emphasizes how crafting can draw us deeper into a character’s personal journey than even a photographed human face. A Studio Ghibli film is always an event.
The studio’s new movie, Catchy tune and the witchcan also be the riskiest. Director: Goro Miyazaki (director of Stories from Earthsea, From the top of Poppy Hill), Catchy tune adapted a novel by British fantasy writer Diana Wynne Jones, who provided the source material for Ghibli’s 2004 film Howl’s Moving Castle. Catchy tune tells the story of a 10-year-old orphanage resident who happens to be a witch’s daughter. When another magical woman, Bella Yaga, adopts her, Earwig’s supernatural origins come to a head. In many ways, the film checks the boxes of the Ghibli storytelling traditions, but it’s also the studio’s first film to be animated entirely using 3D CG. The linchpin was a game of chance that Goro wanted to bet on in order to diversify the studio’s production and secure a future for the company, despite his father Hayao Miyazaki’s reservations about the medium.
With Catchy tune and the witch Polygon was slated for North American theatrical release on February 3rd and debuted on HBO Max shortly thereafter on February 5th. He spoke to Goro Miyazaki about Studio Ghibli’s jump to 3D CG, his investment in style, and what his father ultimately thought of the movie.
This interview was conducted by a translator and edited for clarity and precision.
Earwig, the girl in the center of your film, is going through a rebellious phase. Are you a rebellious guy Was that how you were as a child How much do you bond with her?
Goro Miyazaki: No, I wouldn’t say that I am rebellious. I am a little bit unconventional. Opposite? As a kid, I was pretty shy and calm. So I’m not an extrovert, but I hated it when people kind of put me in a box. In that sense I am rebellious. Here in Japan, at school, they used to have a lot of rules about hairstyle and what kind of clothes to wear in school and so on. When I was in junior high school, I wasn’t brave enough to actually rebel against teachers. But I’ve always wondered why they have all these rules that we have to follow. I hated rules that they made on us for no real reason.
Do you feel the same way today?
Part of me still has that. Earwig is taught to do some chores by Bella Yaga, the witch. And she asks why she has to. But [Bella] says, “Shut up, stupid girl, you just do what you’re told.” That kind of attitude really makes me angry too. If someone wants me to do something, I really want them to explain to me why it is necessary. So I can relate to it.
When I read about Japanese animation and speak to directors, I get the feeling that artists still don’t appreciate 3D CG animation as much as traditional 2D animation. Was there any opposition to the film at Studio Ghibli? What made this film special for 3D CG?
I don’t want to break the rules or rebel the norm of Japanese animation, but a large part of me want to try something new. I felt like the original novel had the right elements to adapt because since this was our first 3D CG at Studio Ghibli, we really didn’t want to include a big epic story with lots of characters and characters in lots of different locations and landscapes. As you know, with 3D CG everything has to go through the modeling process and we haven’t had the ability to do that [with a large cast]. This story had a very small number of characters and then takes place in a very small space. It had all the right elements from offering 3D CG.
And then there was the story. The story essentially follows this one girl’s journey, and I found that CG is very good at bringing out a lot of the characters’ expressions, acting, and performing. With that in mind, it has been very satisfying for me to use 3D CG.
Was it a challenge for the Ghibli animators to adapt to the CG technology and style?
This time we worked with different studios who already have experience with 3D CG, whether it is the animation process or the composite or the modeling – we were supporters. But the members of the core team were all freelancers that we worked with before. So the only employee here at Studio Ghibli who was involved Catchy tune was the head of digital imaging and two people from post production. The rest of the people at Studio Ghibli were very busy working on Hayao Miyazaki’s new film.
Was there an animation sequence or a character model that kept you up at night? Something that was particularly difficult to find just right?
I’ve spent many nights unable to sleep. [Laughs.] Once again, it really came down to performance, expression, and emotions. But the workshop where Earwig and the witch spend a lot of time together making potions and spells, this space that we spent a lot of time creating and perfecting because I wanted to create a space that was very cluttered and disorganized but was nice at the same time.
I heard you say that one of the advantages of 3D CG is that you don’t have to be as meticulous and cite the animation of the hair as a relief in creating this movie. How did the style help you with this?
With 3D CG it is of course possible to capture and recreate the hair with each strand, but it somehow loses the appeal and beauty of the actual character as a three-dimensional shape. So I wanted to create more of a character based on what the character designer designed, with the horny, curly hair, kind of a larger than life character. I didn’t feel that a photorealistic approach commonly used in 3D CG would work for these characters. So I started to focus more on stop-motion animation with people like Studio Laika Kubo For reference.
Are you planning to add more 3D CG features to Studio Ghibli?
I wish Studio Ghibli would continue to do both. If I were to take on my next project it would probably be 3D CG, but, as with everything he does, Hayao Miyazaki will likely stick with hand-drawn animation. I don’t know how much longer he’ll be doing this, but even after he did, I don’t think the studio would stop making hand-drawn animation. So I hope we both keep going.
Hayao Miyazaki has shown strong feelings about 3D CG animation in the past. Did he have a lot to say while filming? What did he think of Studio Ghibli’s entry into this style?
I would say that since he didn’t understand much about 3D CG, he didn’t interfere or say anything. So I had a lot of freedom to do what I wanted to do. He saw [the finished film] and said it was very interesting. He said we could finally do something as good as Pixar. I think he felt a bit competitive or rival to Pixar.