I’ve written about this movie once before. And I will be the first to admit that my “review,” if you can call it that given the movie has yet to be released, was less than glowing. In all honesty it’s me being irate for a few hundred words. However, we now have an update, and with that, a trailer. It’s not yet officially on YouTube or any American web platform so in order to watch it you need to go onto NHK’s website. The direct link to the video is here.
The video has been ripped and uploaded onto YouTube, but the quality of the video leaves something to be desired and the comments look like I made seventy alternative accounts to raid and bash the movie to pieces. Personally I find that to be unbearable. I can hardly stand one of myself, let alone a horde of myself being overly critical and chomping at the bit for a drop of something to hate. Just watch it on NHK’s website.
With the trailer drop we have learned nothing we already didn’t know. Same crew. No ones left or been replaced as far as I can tell. If that has happened, expect a second article or something akin to one about that.
What is left to talk about? Well the trailer of course. Let’s go through that together. I’ll post screenshots where necessary yadah yadah, you know the drill lets just start.
Well, three seconds in and I am not happy with it. My issue is the music. I am going into this expecting a Ghibli trailer, you know how they are. Sweeping scores, beautiful vistas. We got none of that. Instead we have an establishing shot of a school and a drum beat that makes me feel like I’m going to hear generic american voice over number two. “From the creators of who cares and another movie you don’t know comes a funny tale about a girl who doesn’t fit in.” That sort of thing. I shouldn’t let my assumptions make or break this movie.
I can’t comment on the voice acting. It’s kind of like the reason I listen to subs instead of dubs. If it’s bad voice acting I can’t tell because it’s in another language. Which is dumb, but somehow is true for me. It sounds alright. Pretty normal. A bit generic I guess.
At the ten second mark now and I find myself pleased with the character design of the cook. He has that classic exaggerated Studio Ghibli nose and mustache that I love. The food itself does not look great. That is probably the greatest sin this movie has committed. Who knows maybe it’s supposed to not look great.
At around this point I brought in a couple of friends of mine, one of whom is an animation professional and the other is an illustrator to assist with my analysis. So things are going to be a bit more in depth.
The two main sticking points we (and by we I mean they) found were that of lighting and character models. It becomes a bit more obvious around the twenty second mark. Although I do want to quote my friend that the video quality leaves a lot to be desired, so it’s hard to determine the quality of the models and texture work.
We were not the only one to notice the lighting. One of the few genuinely critical and not just angry comments on YouTube said that the lighting seems a bit washed out and bland. Lo and behold, the first thing my animation consultant picked up on was the lighting.
The lighting is pretty boring and generic. I don’t say that to be rude, I mean it in a critical way. Outside of a single scene around the 1:15 mark, the lighting has the same feel to it throughout. It’s all very soft and single tone. There is not a lot of color variation. My friend compared it to another CG Japanese movie, Lupin III: The First. In Lupin different scenes have different colors based on emotion or time or feel. Sunsets are beautiful pinks and color is utilized in such a way that can make characters pop, or set the tone and mood of everything going on. In Earwig, the only time characters really pop out is when placed next to the sets.
By the way, the sets in this movie are wonderful. At the 56 second mark Earwig walks into Baba Yaga’s (or whatever her name is) workshop. It’s messy, gross, cluttered, and full of personality. You can feel the effort and soul put into making the set. And then you have the characters that almost seem out of place there. Maybe it’s the fact that they are framed by the door, but they almost seem too clean. By the way, sorry for the low res screenshot, that’s just how the quality is.
You see what I mean? The character models seem too nice and put together, and there is often a weird inconstancy between the models themselves and the setting they are placed in. Look at the scene below for example. This is from around the 10 second mark. Look at the table and the pot. The table is worn and dirty with knife marks covering its surface. There appears to be bits of onions leftover from some other meal. In the meat tray there are still bits of beef and meat residue from when the ground beef was inside. The pot is old with wear showing on the sides. Now look at the chef’s hands and spoon. Hell look at his apron. They are all immaculate. This kitchen has so much personality, yet none of it reflects in the character models.
Speaking of the character models, they almost seem like plastic dolls. This is another point that was brought up by one of my cohorts. The hair is very stiff like someone emptied a bottle of hairspray for every square inch of hair. It’s a weird thing to focus on, and yet I am. It honestly may just be the style of the movie. That’s fair. I simply don’t like it. Another thing I realize is looking back over the trailer again, there are multiple night scenes yet I don’t really notice it except for the one scene in the library. My final note for now will be that the rendering seems to be a bit off.
The trailer does seem to go into some story stuff. There are no subtitles so I can’t say exactly what that story is. Read my last article for a general summary. One character who is never mentioned in the synopsis or the cast list is the red haired lady you see on the poster. I didn’t know that was about until I watched the trailer over and I’m pretty sure she is a major character. Hell she’s front and center right behind Earwig, yet in front of Baba Yaga and Mandrake. I would speculate that she is Earwigs mom, mostly just based on the screenshot below.
The last scene I’m going to talk about is the one at the 1:50 mark. Where Earwig is holding the cat, Thomas. There is a moment here where the cat moves separately from Earwig’s model and breaks the illusion of them being two separate models. I should not nitpick something so small, but it brought me out of the movie. Which in itself is a good sign. By the end of the trailer I was in it. I was invested, if even just slightly. The other thing is, just a few seconds later at 1:54 we see some genuinely good work.
Ignoring the cat that looks like a clay model, you are able to tell fabrics apart. There is a major difference in weight and stiffness of the Earwigs overalls and shirt. The denim actually has the consistency and texture of denim. Which is great! In addition, my friend pointed out that you can see Earwigs freckles in this scene which is a small touch that goes so far in making the character feel alive.
This move has potential. Lots of potential. It’s just the little things that seem to add up against it. I know I will end up watching it when it comes out in the US, probably with that same friend group. Who knows, if you want to hear us ramble I may make a transcript of our viewing. Maybe.
This is one of those topics where I have to take a moment to back away from it all and just think. Well, not really. In truth I ran out of tea and went to make myself some more. But it did give me a moment to back away from this and think specifically as to why people hate this movie so much. Sure it doesn’t look the best, but there are some ugly movies out there that don’t get hated on. I’m sure you’ve figured out why people hate this movie. More than likely you are feeling the same things they are. Or I assume you are. I’m not a mind reader. This relationship feels a bit one sided now that I think about it.
In any case (hey it’s one of the three phrases I use in every article!), fear is the cause behind people’s hatred of this movie. Fear that this is all Studio Ghibli will become. That Studio Ghibli is going the way of Disney. Not the giant corporate monster that hungers for all IPs available and is attempting to take over the world, but a company that made beautiful hand drawn 2D movies and now only creates CG films. I want to try and dissuade those fears.
I see a lot of people calling this movie “the death of Ghibli.” Well not exactly but that’s the feeling behind the words. I find that unfair. You need to consider that this is one movie being made by the son of the director of Ghibli. This is not a set in stone future for the company. Plus Studio Ghibli is still working on 2D animated IPs. Right now they are working on How do you Live? It is being done entirely by hand. However no one is talking about it because it is still three years out.
When Disney moved over to doing full CG films we didn’t see people ripping the new movies to shreds off the basis they were CG. People forget the reason Disney moved to CG is because it was popular. It’s what people wanted. It’s easier than hand drawing every panel, but that’s not the only reason. Remember all those classic CG movies from your childhood? (Note: I say your childhood, but because I know nothing about you, I am just guessing.) I’m talking movies like Toy Story, Monsters Inc., and The Incredibles. Those were all Pixar. Disney published them, yes, but Pixar was the one who created them. And they were making a ton of money.
At the same time, Disney is putting out movies like Treasure Planet, Jungle Book 2, and Atlantis: The Lost Empire. I have a friend who would kill me if they saw I put Atlantis on the Disney junk list but I’m trying to prove a point. That point being, those were absolute flops. So Disney looks over its portfolios and comes to a logical conclusion: 2D is out of style and 3D is what is in. They buy out Pixar and start having them make all their 3D movies. Or at least the ones of any worth. Kinda.
As time went on Disney would start creating wonderful 3D movies and you have to wonder if it was just a product of the times. When you look back at both the 2D and 3D films Disney (referring to the in-house creation team, not its subsidiaries) put out around the time of this shift, none of them were very good. In reality it seems that they just didn’t have the best creation team.
This turned into a long history lesson on Disney, which I doubt anyone who prefers anime cares about. The point of this is that Studio Ghibli is not in the same set of circumstances that Disney is in. Don’t worry about your darling dying because of one CG movie that has already gartered the company backlash. It’s going to be okay. Get some water. Breathe.
Houston based Sequential Art student who is stuck in the past. Has a habit of going off topic. Loves Berserk, Video Games, and literally nothing else.