Director: Yonebayashi Hiromasa (米林 宏昌)
Screenplay: Miyazaki Hayao (宮崎 駿) and Niwa Keiko (丹羽 圭子)
While in Japan Kokurikozaka kara (コクリコ坂から, lit. From Corn Poppy Hill) was released in July, the rest of the world is finally getting to see the 2010 Studio Ghibli feature: Arrietty (借りぐらしのアリエッティ Karigurashi no Arrietty, lit. “Arrietty the Borrower”), the directorial debut of Yonebayahsi Hiromasa, is currently screening in cinemas across the UK. It is another enchanting offering from the renown Japanese anime studio, but being no Hollywood blockbuster anyone wanting to see it on the big screen should catch it sooner rather than later.
Like Studio Ghibli’s Howl’s Moving Castle and Tales from Earthsea, Arrietty is inspired by the work of fiction of a female European writer – Mary Norton’s The Borrowers (1952). The plot is simple, narrating the story of a family of borrowers – little people no more than 10 cm in height – trying to survive in a world dominated by 6.7 billion humans. The film delights in the ‘little things’. This is not only because Yonebayashi relates significant portions of the film from the point of view of its 14-year old heroine Arrietty, but because the superb observational skills and imagination of the Studio Ghibli animators are as evident as ever. Arrietty’s first ‘borrowing’ mission in the human house, beneath which she and her family live, is a thrilling adventure to retrieve a single sugar cube and a sheet of tissue paper. The animators excel at conveying the sheer immenseness of these items in terms of size and weight for the borrowers. Pulling out a sheet from the tissue box may be an unconscious act for humans, but is a real endeavour that can only be handled by Arrietty and her father together, while the human kitchen becomes a gorge as deep, dark and threatening as the Grand Canyon at night, appliances and wall clocks pulsing like the heart of savage animals.
Yonebayashi also reveals the ingenuity of the borrowers when guiding viewers through the nooks and crannies beneath the floorboards and walls of the house, showing us that borrowers can make use even of the most insignificant things: staples on wooden boards make a ladder, sparkling earrings climbing hooks and a halved tennis ball becomes a lamp shade in Arrietty’s room. As ever, the animation, both of the scenery in- and outside the house, is incredibly detailed and the result of thousands of hours of painstaking work as Studio Ghibli’s films remain predominantly hand drawn.
In the end the first borrowing trip goes awry as Arrietty and Pod are discovered by a human, the sickly boy Shō, who has come to the house to rest before a potentially life-threatening heart operation. Only snippets are revealed of Shō’s situation and we never learn his eventual fate as the film concludes before the operation takes place. Although Karigurashi no Arrietty is one of Studio Ghibli’s more lighthearted films, Shō’s story injects a seriousness into the anime that is absent from often too sugarcoated Western animations. But this too is why Studio Ghibli productions are so magnificent: they present life in its full glory, whether it be delightful little moments or painful suffering, taking young viewers seriously and engaging adults too.
The ethereal soundtrack for Arrietty, composed and performed by French singer and harpist Cécile Corbel, submerges viewers in the equally wondrous and dangerous world of Arrietty.
Available on iTunes.
As usual, the subtitled version is recommended. However, those who prefer an English-language film, should know that Karigurashi ni Arrietty was dubbed separately for both sides of the Atlantic. The English version features Saoirse Ronan (Atonement, The Lovely Bones) as Arrietty and Tom Holland (one of the Billy Elliott musical actors) as Shō.
- Yonghow reviews the artbook for Karigurashi no Arrietty & Taneda Yohei’s exhibition book over at Halcyon Realms.