“Aya and the Witch”, a 3D Ghibli that lacks relief

Aya and the witch *

by Goro Miyazaki

Japanese animated film (1 h 22 min)

Announced with fanfare as the big comeback to the cinema of Ghibli studios (Spirited away, The Grave of the Fireflies), six years later Memories of Marnie, delicate evocation of adolescent malaise, Aya and the witch does not, alas, avoid hiccups and false notes.

It should be noted from the outset that this feature film was co-produced by NHK, the Japanese public channel, which broadcast it in December 2020. It would therefore be unfair to compare a production conceived with the constraints, notably financial, of television, and a movie film. Especially since Goro Miyazaki, son of the co-founder of Ghibli, sought to innovate by switching to three-dimensional (3D) computer-generated animation, breaking with the tradition of cartooning on paper.

→ ANALYSIS. Japanese animation after Miyazaki

The ace ! The audacity did not pay off, despite a sympathetic comment. The heroine of this emancipation story, the mischievous Aya spends happy days in an orphanage with her friend Custard. She doesn’t know anything about her past and especially not that her mother, a music lover witch, abandoned her there ten years earlier.

Adapted from a children’s novel

Despite herself, Aya is adopted by a couple who are not funny: Mandrake, silent and lonely, and Bella, cantankerous and threatening, make her toil in a house guarded by bats with magical powers. Aya landed in a wizarding home. Making good heart against bad luck, the young girl intends to take advantage of the situation to learn a few tricks …

Aya and the witch is adapted from a children’s novel by Briton Diana Wynne Jones, an author dear to Hayao Miyazaki, who had previously drawn The Howl’s Moving Castle (2005) from one of his other novels. But Goro does not have the genius of his father to magnify initiatory stories intended for young people into powerful works of universal reach.

In this tale about the pangs and joys of adopting a child, the director adds personal messages to his father, as he had already done in his first two films, Tales from Earthsea (2006) and The poppy hill (2011). Like Hayao Miyazaki, the magician Mandrake is a disturbing and angry artist who rides in 2 CV …

Lame tempo

It would all be fine if Aya and the witch was not motley of garish colors and saturated with a shattering music which hardly conceals a lame tempo, as if playing out of time.

Used awkwardly, 3D animation stiffens the gestures and expressions of disembodied characters. And the staging does not exploit the possibilities offered by this technique to deploy original camera movements. Goro Miyazaki may play the sorcerer’s apprentice, but he never really masters his wand properly.


Four prizes for French films at Gérardmer

The Grand Prize of the Gérardmer Fantastic Film Festival was awarded on Sunday January 31 to Possesor, feature film about white-collar assassins who take control of the bodies of their victims, by Brandon Cronenberg, son of legendary director David Cronenberg.

French cinema shone with a black light by winning one of the jury prizes and that of the “young” jury, awarded to Teddy, by the French Ludovic and Zoran Boukherma, around the figure of the werewolf, as well as the public and critical prizes, awarded to The cloud, by Just Philippot, whose carnivorous grasshoppers recall the Birds by Alfred Hitchcock.


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