Earwig and the Witch is a Japanese computer-animated fantasy film directed by Gorō Miyazaki, and is based on the novel of the same name by Diana Wynne Jones. The original voice cast includes Shinobu Terajima, Etsushi Toyokawa, Gaku Hamada, and Kokoro Hirasawa.
Summary and Spoilers
The movie begins with a red head woman singing a song to baby. The woman then drove her motorcycle with the baby and was chased by a yellow car with mechanical pinchers on the highway. She flees by motorcycle with a baby swaddled to her chest with a blanket. The woman has magical capabilities, using a lock of her hair and turning it into worms to obscure the car’s vision as she successfully gets away to St Morwald’s Home for Children. The baby peacefully chews on a tape titled “Earwig” in written on it. The woman tells Earwig, the toddler, that she has to stay at St Morwald’s now before leaving her on the doorstep.
Earwig’s cries bring two women to retrieve her from outside, also picking up the blanket with a note attached to it. The note says “Got 12 other witches all chasing me. I’ll be back for her when I’ve shook them off. It may take years. Her name is Earwig.”
The younger woman, Thelma, reading the note aloud ponders what the child’s mother had done to anger the other witches in her coven. The elderly woman, holding Earwig, finds the idea of witches to be “rubbish” and dislikes the name Earwig. She is also Matron of the Home. She renames Earwig to Erica Wigg.
Years later the children of the home rush outside dressed as sheet ghosts. Erica sneaks off with a friend with a key to the bell tower. Her friend, a boy named Custard, is reluctant to join her sneaking into the building, but joins her as he is too afraid to wait outside. She taunts him with scary stories on the way to the roof, where they look at everything for miles. They spot a ship in the water, marveling at it and wishing they could be on it. Custard then asks if Erica has ever wanted a family or to be somewhere other than the Home. Erica shrugs it off and says not at all. She then adds that no one would want to choose her unless they were unusual. She finds a normal family to be worse, where at the Home, everyone does what she wants. She even goes on to recite the words told to her as a baby when initially dropped off at the home, that there is plenty of sunshine from the large windows and the shepherd’s pie is really good. Custard does not share this outlook and seems to really want a family.
The next day, Matron comes rushing in alarmed after hearing the children were dressed as ghosts in the cemetery last night. Erica willingly takes the blame and says she held a farewell party to whoever may be chosen for adoption today. Matron forgives her and wonders aloud why Erica hasn’t found a family yet, since she is so wonderful and sweet. Matron then surprises Erica with a sweater and Erica then carries Matron’s bag for her. It’s clear that Erica has Matron under her thumb. It appears Erica is the smartest one around and all the children look up to her for all kinds of help.
When it is time for couples to visit the children, they are all focused on the infants, ignoring the older children completely. Erica is clearly irritated by this and leaves. She explains to Custard that she is frustrated by how the adults look at the children like they are ornaments and not individual people. An unusually dressed couple arrives at the Home, both colorfully dressed with fine jewelry. They are there to meet the older children. The woman is stout with a disdainful look on her face while the man accompanying her is rather waif with pointed ears.
He isn’t even looking at the children, his eyes are untraceable through his glasses. When he notices Erica’s eyes on him, he seems to grow taller and loom over her with a dangerous aura. Erica is the only one that sees this. When the Matron starts to introduce Erica, the woman turns to the man she calls Mandrake and asks what he thinks of Erica. He states she “should do” coldly and Erica outbursts with resistance that she wants to stay with Custard. Her say holds no value as she is forced to pack her belongings to go with the odd couple. While packing her things, she finds the cassette tape labeled “Earwig”.
Erica is made to follow her new parents to their home, but they seem to care little about her at all, letting her nearly be hit by a car when crossing the sidewalk. She takes this as a challenge. Erica notices the large windows at their home and deems this as her being able to run away whenever she wants, but then the house gate locks magically behind her. When inside the house, Mandrake shuffles off stating he got the woman what she wanted and wishes to not be disturbed. The woman snatches Erica’s bag and tosses it into Erica’s new room. She turns to Erica and introduces her as Bella Yaga, a witch. She explains she chose Erica because she needs a hard worker and if Erica is lazy, she will be hurt. Erica merely smiles and says she will help as long as she is taught everything Bella knows about magic.
When entering the shop, Erica is met with the stench of the room. The place is covered with all kinds of sludge, filth and clutter. Bella tosses rat bones to Erica to grind to a powder. Bella warns Erica of the Mandrake, that he must never be disturbed. Despite being disgusted with her surroundings, Erica is eager to learn about the magic she is helping Bella with. Bella then notices her current recipe requires the help of a familiar and brings a black cat named Thomas over. The phone rings and Bella picks up, her tone switching to delight as she greets someone as Madame. She then begins to take an order for a spell down, one to get rid of a ballet lead. Erica takes this chance to skim through Bella’s spell book, finding recipes for all sorts of things, such as one for winning a dog show. Erica then witnesses Bella cast a spell for the dog show.
As the night draws in to a close, they have dinner with the Mandrake. Bella insults the choice for dinner, angering the Mandrake, but Erica gleefully compliments it, which calms him down. As Erica gets ready for bed, she determines that if she can’t get Bella to do as she wants, she will run away. Erica peers through the bathroom door to watch Bella enter a room, the door disappearing behind her. Erica then enters the room Bella was previously in, finding a grand library far too large to logically belong to the little cottage house. She approaches the Mandrake’s study, reading his novel progress and insulting it when two small bat-winged creatures with red eyes begin pushing books to fall on her head. She rushes out of that room, choosing the door at the end of the hall to explore next. Yet another room with a putrid smell, she covers her nose to explore it. It is an entryway to a room of stone arches and columns. It is being used as the garage, holding the same yellow car that chased the red-haired woman when Erica was still a baby.
Inside the car, Erica finds a stereo and album called Earwig, so she takes it. She finds that the front door is gone when she returns to the main hallway. Returning to her room, she learns her window is painted shut and cannot be opened. She settles for lying on her bed, comparing the cassette tape she has labeled Earwig and the record she found in the yellow car.
Erica learns the next morning that she is the only one that uses the bathroom, so tapes a picture of Matron and Custard to her mirror. Bella teaches Erica how to make breakfast and Erica asks Bella where she sleeps at night. Bella threatens her to mind her business and that if she doesn’t she will be given worms. The day is spent sending Erica back and forth to collect things from the garden. Erica learns that the Mandrake guards all the entrances and exits of the house, as well as controls all the demons. She will now not only have to get Bella under her control, but the Mandrake as well if she wants freedom. Due to all the picking and washing Erica has done today, she figures Bella has no intention of teaching her magic. That night Erica finally listens to Earwig the first time, hanging out with Thomas and drawing.
The Mandrake has been watching Erica closely, so when the next night approaches and Erica is trying to draw him, his eyes peer through the wall. When Erica asks what it is, Thomas replies that it is actually the Mandrake since his den is on the other side of the wall. Thomas then offers to show Erica the spell she needs in the back of Bella’s spellbook. It’s a spell to protect the body from other magical effects. With Thomas’ help and instruction, Erica prepares the spell together.
When finished, Erica coats Thomas and herself in the concoction.
In the morning, Bella and Erica get into a dispute while Mandrake reads the paper. The paper is slandering his efforts to become a writer. Erica is growing tired of being treated poorly, leading to another dispute between her and Bella in the shop. Bella goes cross-eyed with rage and lightly smacks Erica as a warning. Later the Mandrake surprises Erica with the shepherd’s pie from the orphanage, saying it is one of his favorites. Bella heads out with her spells in colorful packages, demanding that Erica finishes her chores before she returns home. Erica settles for trying a spell where she gives Bella a literal set of extra hands. While she is working on this, the Mandrake gives Erica a tray of cookies and tea. They have a pleasant exchange, much to Thomas’ surprise. She asks to read his work and he simply replies with a yes before leaving. Erica is forced to hide the doll of Bella when she returns home. All Erica needs to finish it is a lock of Bella’s hair. Bella punishes Erica by saying she will only be getting bread and cheese for dinner.
The Mandrake has another display of kindness and has his demons give Erica a full plate for dinner along with a book of his writing.
She finds his writing to be boring and calls it a waste. She then pokes a hole through the wall with a flathead screwdriver, where she spies on Mandrake playing the organ briefly. When she enters the bathroom the next day, she finds half the screw driver she drove through her wall to be poking in the bathroom. She is frustrated with not understanding magic and is determined to get back at Bella for this. So, to get Bella’s hair, Erica pulls a few strands from the red hat she usually wears.
Erica hides it in her medicine cabinet when she is ready to attach it to the doll. When breakfast comes and she is tasked with making fried bread, she deliberately ruins it. Bella nearly gets in trouble with Mandrake and Erica quips that if she was actually taught things, this wouldn’t have happened.
While working, Erica asks for a bathroom break, taking the bit of Bella’s hair and wrapping it around the doll she made.
When she returns to the shop, she finds two small arms to be sprouting from Bella. Bella then threatens her with worms and casts her back to her room. The spell Erica casted to protect her and Thomas worked, so the worms merely pile on the floor. When Erica figures that if Bella sees the worms on the floor, she will learn that Erica has resisted punishment. So, she begins feeding them through the hole in the wall to what she forgets is actually the Mandrake’s room. The wall is then pooling in lava, the Mandrake, covered in scales and smoke emerges from it. He is followed by an army of small demons, declaring that if it’s worms Bella wants, it is worms she will get.
Bella confronts Erica about this and they are backed into the dresser by the Mandrake, triggering the stereo to begin playing Earwig. Erica shoves the stereo to Bella’s chest and jumps into the lava wall, porting her to the old Earwig recording room. In there, Erica sees a photo of all the members of Earwig. She then realizes who the members are, seeing Bella and Mandrake. She is then placed into a flashback crowd, at an Earwig concert, she is focused on the one woman she doesn’t recognize, a woman singing with red curly hair… the woman that escaped with her as a baby.
When Mandrake enters the room, he asks Erica about the worms and explains to her that they only wriggle into magical places and that music is the same. He assures Erica that it will never happen to her again and that she will be taught magic properly to prevent this from happening again. Erica then asks about Earwig and the red-haired woman, even asking if she was his girlfriend. Mandrake starts by explaining the person Bella used to be, always talented at spells and extremely talented at drums. The red-haired woman left Earwig because she opposes witch’s law, standing up against the 12 crones.
Mandrake explains that when a witch leaves, there is a hole remaining in their place. Erica promises to not leave like that and to become a proper witch. Mandrake then ushers Erica to leave. Erica tries to beg Mandrake to let her go to school to be with her friend Custard. He states he will consider it. Erica notices in her room that the window is open for the first time. Erica returns to Bella in the shop, she hugs Bella and tells her how much she hopes to be a great witch like her one day. She then even asks if they could all go on a picnic someday.
Six months pass and Erica now has control over Bella and Mandrake. Her room has drastically changed to be filled with extravagant furniture. Her hair ties are now even bows. She is able to freely request food from Mandrake and helps him with his manuscripts.
Even the demons obey her now. Only thing she can’t seem to get her way with is getting Custard to visit her, as he is too scared of the Mandrake. When Custard does finally visit, the woman with red hair arrives and greets Erica by her original name, Earwig.
It is the first full 3D CG animated film by Studio Ghibli which makes some of the fans a bit frustrated because it didn’t meet their expectation like the way the other Studio Ghibli animation were. I think Princess Mononoke and Spirited Away are great anime and amazing story that captures emotions which makes the fans frustration with Earwig and the Witch understandable.
It may be bad for other fans but for me the story is good and I think kids will also love it. One thing I notice to Erica in the beginning of the film is that she’s not entirely genuine. She’s being kind because she wants to get something out of it, like where she’s being sweet to other people just so she could get what she wants. According to Goro Miyazaki he wanted Erica to be portrayed as someone who is energetic and honest about her wants who just doesn’t fit the ‘good kid’ mold, and he thinks that this trait is charming. I agree with him, I think this is a great portrayal of a real kid. Kids are naughty and has a huge imagination like Earwig. She’s not perfect and she has a lot of things that she needs to learn.
But I do love how this kid captures her foster parents’ heart and made a happy family. Her manipulative trait isn’t bad at all, in fact she was more than happy as she were when she was at the orphanage house and she never thought she would like it that much. When Mandrake open up to her about what happened to the band, that is when she turns things around saying that she won’t leave them. She helped Bella Yaga let down her walls, no longer the rude witch that she is.
The film has an open-ended story, it didn’t show us if Erica’s mother, the red curly haired woman introduced herself to her or did she reconcile with her former band mates. I have a lot of questions after the movie like, would she take Erica with her and change her name to Earwig? Will Erica go with her even now that she established a good relationship with Bella and Mandrake? How will the couple react if they knew that Erica is Earwig? Or do they know it all along that Erica is Earwig? The movie has a lot of unanswered question and I don’t know if it’s intentional just so they can keep the conversation going for those who watched it.
It was pretty clear in the ending that her mother came back because at the beginning of the film, the written note says she will come back if she already shook off the other twelve witches that were chasing her. How she did it wasn’t mentioned in the movie either.
But at the very end of the film, this drawing made by Erica was shown. My theory is, maybe she chose to stay with her foster parents because she’s already happy with her family. As for her mother, we never know for sure.