07 August 2011
The latest from Studio Ghibli comes with an awesome 2D hand-drawn animation that puts any 3D, pixel-heavy animation to shame. Regardless of how lifelike they try to make the majority of animated films, they are missing the point - if I wanted to watch a life-like film, I’d watch one that is actually life-like, with living and breathing actors (at least living and breathing while they were filming it). So, it is a blessing indeed that the films of Studio Ghibli have been picked up by Disney so that we can get to watch them on the biggest of screens.
Arrietty is based on Mary Norton’s beloved children’s book “The Borrowers”. While the semi-Dickensian 1950s British setting is transferred to modern day Japan and like the previous Ghibli classics like Kiki’s Delivery Service, Grave of the Fireflies and Porco Rosso, there is a sense of a universal familiarity mixed with an eerie sense of an alien, idyllic world. It’s as much fantasy seeped into reality as reality seeped into fantasy.
Our titular character and her family of little people, co-habiting a country house with normal sized human “beans”. Their existence has been the subject of myth and hearsay for generations - some have claimed to see them, but none could actually prove with absolute certainty. The human beans even built a dollhouse for them, in case there is an interaction between the two species. These little people are “borrowers” - they borrow things from humans for sustenance, things human beans may not notice (a fallen pin, a sugar cube, a single tea leaf etc.). Arrietty’s initiation as a borrower as her father takes her inside the house on a dangerous mission to get a sugar cube, coincides with the arrival of Sho - the young boy, who was sent to the country side by her negligent mother to rest before a vital heart operation that will save his life. Needless to say, Sho sees Arrietty, which means the end of Arrietty’s family’s time in that house - they don’t trust humans (rightly so, as is revealed later on) and their survivial depends on their anonimity.
Directed by longtime Hayao Miyazaki animator Hiromasa Yonebayashi, this is surely one of the most visually pleasing films you will see this year. Miyazaki’s influence is, of course, all over the place. Here he serves as the screenwriter and Arrietty may well be one of his most memorable creations: graceful, rebellious and full of unstoppable energy. She is an older Chihiro and a younger Mononoke.
Another thing to note is the incredible soundtrack (which is occasionally let down by a silly bilingual theme song), equaly uplifting and melancholic.
It is not the best film that Studio Ghibli came up with, but it is definitely a return to form after the rather underwhelming Howl’s Moving Castle and Ponyo.