Aya and the Witch on Netflix: Miyazaki defends the use of 3D for his animated film Ghibli

After a quirky theatrical release several times, Aya and the Witch eventually landed on Netflix on November 18. For the occasion, we went to meet the director Goro Miyazaki.

Aya and the Witch follows a little girl who grew up in a cozy orphanage since she was a baby. She doesn’t know her mother had magical powers. Loved and pampered, the 10-year-old never wanted to leave her cocoon and her dear friend Custard. Mischievous, cunning, she leads her little world by the nose!

When a strange couple comes to adopt her, Aya rebels and follows her new family backwards… But what can this mysterious Mandrake and this disturbing Bella Yaga be hiding? To the rhythm of the enchantments, an extraordinary adventure awaits the adorable shameless… because her pretended parents are none other than wizards!

On the occasion of the broadcast of the animated film on Netflix, AlloCiné met its director, Goro Miyazaki, son of the legendary Hayao.

Aya and the Witch is the first film to be made in 3D, why has Ghibli been so reluctant to seize this technology?

Until now, the studio saw no need to tackle this type of challenge. All of our projects were hand drawn. The studio has forged its excellence in this formal language. So there was no reason to go into 3D.

In today’s situation, to go in this direction corresponded to the opening of another possibility to be explored besides the traditional animation. Ghibli is not going to stop producing such films, however.

But when we look at the landscape of global animation, 3D takes a prominent place. It therefore made sense to take up the challenge of this new tool to open up an additional possibility for the future of the studio.

In today’s situation, making a film in 3D corresponded to opening up another possibility to be explored alongside traditional animation.

Aya is an adaptation of a western novel by Diana Wynne Jones, do your personal tastes attract you more to this kind of books than Japanese manga? Indeed, your previous film, Ronya, the brigand’s daughter, was also adapted from a Western story written by Astrid Lindgren.

If we think about the literary genre which is that of children’s literature, we realize that it is in England or other European countries that he has given great masterpieces. In any case, since I was a child, and even before, there is a whole tradition of translating Western works dedicated to young people.

This is obviously also the case for adult literature, but a large number of children’s books have found a very large Japanese audience. England is notably one of the major producing countries of children’s literature. Even though these are foreign works, they are very familiar to us.

The figure of the witch is very present in many cultures, we see quite a few moreover in films stamped Ghibli. Why is the witch so fascinating in popular culture?

For more than 50 years, Japan has produced cartoons with magicians or witches as main characters, young girls with magical powers. It’s something that goes way back in time, long before Kiki’s Delivery Service, which isn’t the first witch project at all.

There is a whole line of animated productions with these types of characters. For me, one way of explaining it would be to say that when you want to take a young girl as a protagonist, you like to give her the powers of a magician or a witch. This gives her thickness because she has a specific ability that others do not have.

This gives it a special identity. In the West, the term witch can have a negative connotation if we think of Snow White for example, with her crooked fingers. In Japan, we no longer have the image of the little witch from these series for girls that I told you about previously. They therefore have a very positive image thanks to their particular qualities.

In Japan, witches have a very positive image thanks to their special qualities.

Aya is an intelligent, determined and insolent little witch; in this sense, she is perfectly in line with the Ghibli heroines. Did you have at heart to carry a feminist message with this film?

I didn’t really have that awareness. Rather, I wanted to create antagonism between children and adults. People of my generation, who are in their fifties today, have a lot of people of the same generation around them. Being young, we had a lot of companions, people with whom we shared the same values. We could join forces to make a message heard, to assert our priorities. We had this power in common.

Today, in contrast, Japan faces a very significant birth rate problem. Children are a very small minority in our country. Therefore, this is a generation that is much less likely to be heard. She has to face a pressure that makes her fragile and delicate. Even if it is more difficult for them to change the situation, the real question lies here: how to manage to find their way in this context?

Should new generations take it upon themselves and follow the directions of previous generations? I do not believe. A character like Aya, who finds ways to manipulate the adults around her, can give clues to children, suggest that they can have the strength to lead others in a given direction, to make their voices heard. It seemed to me that it made sense to offer children this type of character.

Demon Slayer The Infinity Train broke the historic record for Spirited Away at the Japanese box office, what is your take on this success?

From Studio Ghibli’s perspective, the fact that this record is now held by another production is a good thing. We had held this record at the box office for a very long time; now that he’s beaten, we’re going to be able to be much more relaxed. The context of the health crisis has prevented many Japanese and foreign feature films from being released in theaters.

Even though Demon Slayer has benefited from the absence of rival films, the fact that a cartoon manages to take the historic box office spot in Japan is absolutely remarkable. Japan is indeed a strange country. There is a force, a real vitality in the animation, which is manifested by an enthusiastic audience that rushes into the theaters.

Do you have any news regarding How do you live, the next film of your father, Hayao Miyazaki?

The first thing I can tell you is that we don’t know when the film will be over. That remains the great mystery. My father is 80 years old and he works slowly, at his own pace. He avoids putting unnecessary pressure on himself.

What I can tell you, from how little I have seen footage from the film, is that I am very struck by how, even at that age, he retains a flamboyant imagination and richness. His creative energy remains as impressive as ever.