Tuesday, February 7, 2012

The Secret World of Arrietty

The Secret World of Arrietty (2011, UK version)
Animation. Adventure, Family, 94 minutes
Directed by Hiromasa Yonebayashi
Starring the voices of Saoirse Ronan, Mark Strong and Tom Holland

For the benefit of those who have never read any of my reviews, I consider Studio Ghibli's films to be the most beautiful and moving stories that the genre has to offer.

The studio was founded by Directors Hayao Miyazaki and Isao Takahata as well as Producer Toshio Suzuki, but is entering a transitional phase with that trio now in their 60s and 70s. So how does this debut effort from Yonebayashi hold up?

After two viewings, I would say extremely well.

Fans of Miyazaki need not despair. He had a hand in the screenplay, adapted from Mary Norton's book, and his imprint is all over this film. Like all Studio Ghibli efforts, Arrietty has so much heart that it's almost impossible to avoid being emotionally moved by the story. The animation style is exactly what you would expect too, with a two-dimensional look and a faded color palette. The music comes from Cecile Corbel, Simon Caby and Dale Sison, but it often feels like a Joe Hisaishi score. Studio Ghibli's future is in good hands.

Arrietty Clock is 14 years old and four inches tall. She's a Borrower and lives with her mother and father. Borrowers acquire items that humans don't really need and then use them as food or to make tools. She collects leaves, sugar lumps and pins and puts them to good use. Humans are considered dangerous so the Clock family tries to remain out of sight, living in the foundations of the humans' house.

Arrietty and her father adapt a variety of items and turn them into useful gadgets. Thread, earrings and sticky tape enable them to climb and move around large objects. Dangers are everywhere if you are four inches tall. Think of how a cat or bird might view someone of that size. Despite the danger, Arrietty seems at one with nature. She tries not to hurt any small bugs and is accepted by most of the creatures in her world.

I'm not going to go into too much detail about the plot as the film hasn't yet been released theatrically in North America, but here are a few important points:

A boy named Sho comes to stay at the house while he awaits a heart operation. Imagine that in a Disney movie; it just wouldn't happen. Sho defies the expectations of the Clock family and seems friendly. However, not everyone in his household is as harmless. If humans discover the existence of the Clock family, they will have to vacate their home and move on.

Moments of peril are few, but intense, although there is no real violence. The film plays out like an adventure and can safely be viewed by people of all ages. The ending leaves a few loose threads. Mary Norton's series consists of four books, so it's possible that Studio Ghibli could release a sequel one day.

The film is a coming-of-age story in which Arrietty tries to prove her value as a Borrower. It touches on illness, love, trust, superstition and greed, but its world is filled with beauty and innocence for the most part. Look at Sho's expression when he meets Arrietty and see how non-threatening it is. Notice how Arrietty's nods of understanding convey respect and love for her father. See how imaginative the story is in terms of using Arrietty's stature to show the world from her perspective.

The film ends on an optimistic note, despite the feeling that some story threads are unresolved. That's exactly how I feel about the future of Studio Ghibli. If you are a fan of the studio, please consider seeing the film in theaters. It's due to be released in North America on February 17. It certainly has a lot more heart than typical animated fare and perhaps our support will encourage Disney to release more Studio Ghibli films on Blu-ray in North America?

This version features a British voice cast and the imported Blu-ray is locked to Region B. The North American release will feature a completely different voice cast and is out on May 22, 2012. If you prefer to see the film in its original Japanese, that's also an option on this release.

It would be hard to give a higher recommendation. I've seen the film twice and its world embraced me like a familiar warm blanket on both occasions.

Overall score 4.5/5

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  1. Really nice review, and love that you included some background on Studio Ghibli at the start. I've not seen this one, but will definitely look out for it as I've recently gotten into it. Best wishes, Patrick from Static Mass.

    1. Thanks Patrick.

      The first Studio Ghibli film I saw was Grave of the Fireflies about three years ago, so there are still a couple that I haven't seen such as Pom Poko and Only Yesterday. But I've seen the vast majority and they all contain the same kind of magic. I love how people treat one another in these world's.

      When I did my Top 20 animated titles, eight Studio Ghibli titles were included. It would have been nine if I had not listed one in my top dramas. The number would be even higher now and Arrietty would squeeze in there somewhere.

      I hope you enjoy checking out other Studio Ghibli titles.


  2. Well, Ghibli always gives beautiful animation. Though I've heard some people dislike this adaptation, I love it anyway. Thanks for sharing!

    1. I'm not sure why anyone would dislike it. There's not much action. Maybe it moves too slowly for some?

  3. I'll see the British version of because the wonderful Saoirse Ronan voices Arrietty!

    1. I like the British version. It doesn't feel the need to wrap up everything quite so neatly. I'll have to check out the Japanese dub soon.