I’ve had the pleasure of viewing “Arrietty”, Studio Ghibli’s latest film. “Arrietty” is the directorial debut of Hiromasa Yonebayashi, who served as key animator in Hayao Miyazaki’s “Ponyo” (2008). Arrietty is the name of the main character, a 14-year-old “Borrower”. They are about 10 cm in height and lives by ‘borrowing’ tiny amounts of renewable supplies from their environment. It’s an adaptation of Mary Norton’s “The Borrowers“.
The film’s visual style retains the Ghibli flair, the rendering has much less of a radical finish than Ponyo but nowhere less stellar. While Ponyo was very gestural, oozing life from every movement and free contours, Arrietty’s charm is in the restraint & control shown in each little movement. The attention shown to the environments are choked full of heart. Appropriately so, as a film about tiny people coexisting with another world, living in another scale and pace.
The differences are very appropriate, while Ponyo to me, was about the unbridled nature of life, Arrietty concentrates on what it takes for lives to carry on. The home and utilities of the borrower family are lovingly detailed, fashioned from what items their larger counterparts might have discarded or forgotten about. So much care and love went into the background art, it’s a shame to miss out on these finer details of the Borrowers’ life.
Arrietty is a very quiet yet engaging film. What other adventure films would attempt to deliver via explosions, this film shows by lavishing lively details. It’s oddly realistic for a fantasy film. The dangers presented are real and noticeable without garish aggrandizing. Some of the settings seem to take a photorealistic nature. They are gorgeous still life studies of things seemingly left out of life.
In other instances, the film gives you a feel of the fantastic, yet still reined in. It’s akin to classical paintings, the feel transcends what a great photograph might bring. These paintings are such enjoyable eye candy for me. Some details reminded me of Miyazaki’s “Howl’s Moving Castle” (2004) which Hiromasa did work on, and Satoshi Kon’s “Magnetic Rose” (1995), two of some of my personal favorites.
One of the things I appreciate from this film is in not turning itself into a slapstick. There is no rascal-like attitude in depicting the conflicts of the tiny people versus the humans. As the Borrowers take their own lives seriously, you can’t help but get drawn in, that yes, indeed they are here to breathe and live, not to deliver size-related puns and outwitting clumsy, single-minded humans. Respect and love of life is shown in pleasantly depicted routines of the characters. Great execution and example of not being oblivious to the small things.
Being a Ghibli film, the animation is top-notch. The weight in each movement’s finely tuned, from the droplets of tea, rustling leaves, leaps and rests of the characters. Nothing feels like a cheap shot. The gestures are also on par. These characters each have a different weight and that’s important seeing as how this is a movie about a tiny inhabitants living amongst normalcy.
The story is sweet of nature and the characters are confidently brought across. The premise is simple; the execution is mature and focused. You won’t have to sit through about an hour of Arrietty struggling with self-esteem issues or a lack of direction in her young life. The humans are not simply set pieces to overcome either, they bring a contrast to the larger-than-life daily routines of the Borrowers. All the characters were engaging and there’s one I specifically haven’t shown because it was a joy to see his/her introduction.
Arrietty was a thoroughly pleasant and relaxing viewing experience for me. It’s also a reassuring nod that Ghibli has, maybe, groomed a younger generation of directors to pass the massive baton to. I eagerly await Hiromasa’s next directorial work.