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Movie Reviews




Released: 17th July 2010

Director: Hiromasa Yonebayashi

Stars: Mirai Shida, Ryunosuke Kamiki, Shinobu Ōtake

Certificate: U

Reviewer: Angharad Ross-Jones

Based on English author Mary Norton’s beloved novel ‘The Borrowers’, Arrietty is the 17th feature film by the world-renowned animators at Japan’s Studio Ghibli. Written by Keiko Niwa and Hayao Miyazaki, the latter being the better known of the studios co-founders and the director of many Ghibli films himself, and directed by long-time Ghibli animator Hiromasa Yonebayashi, Arrietty is a film that had the finest of storytelling ingredients behind its creation.  And it shows.

Set in 2010 in western Tokyo, the film (as its title suggests) is the story of 10cm tall Arrietty; a spirited fourteen year old ‘Borrower’ living with her parents under the floorboards of a typical Koganei household. Apart from being miniature she’s just like any other teenager, eager to strike out on her own and explore the world around her. This however is a big cause for concern for her parents, as Borrowers must keep their existence a secret from humans- and Arrietty is none too careful about concealing herself on her travels.

We join Arrietty on the day when Sho, a sickly twelve year old boy (and a nephew of the owner of the house) comes to stay.  As he arrives at the house he immediately notices a cat attacking something in the bushes. As a particularly vicious crow ends up frightening the cat away, he goes over to take a look at the bushes and there he catches a glimpse of Arrietty.  He keeps the sighting a secret, walking up to the house and greeting his aunt and her housemaid without a word of the incident.

Sho’s first night at the house also marks Arrietty’s first real ‘borrowing’ expedition with her dad and together they scale both the upper and lower parts of the house for various items. But whilst attempting to pilfer some tissue from a bedroom, Arrietty is witnessed by Sho again. He tells her not to be afraid of him and verbally extends a friendly hand towards her, but after a few more encounters with each other they both learn that there are many more obstacles on the path to their friendship than just compatibility.

Despite the fact Arrietty is based on a story that has been adapted numerous times, the style in which the scenes are lovingly staged and the smoothness with which the characters personalities are delivered somehow makes it feel like an original work. The quality of the studio’s output seems to just keep getting better. This time we see an intricate and minutely detailed version of their animation, which corresponds nicely with the story’s premise. The background art may be the most accomplished I’ve ever seen- everything is so vibrant and lush that you think you can almost smell the flower garden or feel the raindrop laden leaves brushing against you. The genius of the cinematography means you even experience the feeling of insignificance that befalls a Borrower when surrounded by vast open rooms.

Studio Ghibli never fail to make you feel ‘in the moment’ at crucial points in their films, an example of which from this film would be the scene where Arriety and her father are on the nightime mission for leftovers. The precise way in which it’s animated, coupled with the quirky but eerie music makes it feel like a covert MI5 operation rather than stealing a sugar cube and a bit of tissue. The scene creates a tension and suspense that is so unexpected in what’s titled a ‘children’s animation’. This is just one of many points which have formed my opinion that, whilst Studio Ghibli films are a wonderful choice of children, the genius of the details is lost on them. Teenagers and adults can perhaps take away more from the films than younger viewers can.

The only negative I can draw from this film is that the English dubbing wasn’t quite up to its usually high standard – there were a few a quite noticeable instances where the words didn’t match the mouths. Other than that the English voice acting was top notch. Saoirse Ronan was a great choice for the plucky but sweet Arrietty and Geraldine McEwan brought to life the vindictive housekeeper Haru.

Overall Arrietty is perhaps more of an acquired taste than the studio’s other fast-paced epics like Princess Mononoke and Spirited Away, but it has a gentle charm that’s rarely seen in cinema. If you think you’ll appreciate it then definitely give it a try. It’s like the Japanese desert Cherry Ice. It’s a sweet little treat.

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