Feb 27, 2012

[Movies] The Secret World of Arrietty / Kari-gurashi no Arietti (2010/2011/2012)

There have been quite a few scares about the continued existence of the amazing Studio Ghibli in recent years with a lot of the talk claiming they were bound to close shop any moment now. And while those rumors still resurface from time to time, it's nice to know that they're still releasing new animated features to help reassure fans like us that they're not going down without a fight.

It took a while for us to find a copy of this movie since Studio Ghibli films don't typically get a lot of local support in terms of the primary movie distributors and such. It's a major shame really since it's hard to find a Studio Ghibliy movie that isn't strikingly beautiful and powerful in its own way. And yet despite the high level of quality associated with their releases, we still don't see them get featured nor do we see DVDs of their movies in decent supply at local video stores.

And this movie is a gem of a different color entirely. It isn't quite like many of the other movies, perhaps because of the story it was based on. But at the same time it still has a lot of the primary elements of any Studio Ghibli movie, thus keeping it consistent with the tone and shape of the rest of the studio's releases.

The Secret World of Arrietty or just Arriety in the UK and Kari-gurashi no Arietti (The Borrower Arrietty) in Japan, is a 2010 animated feature released by Studio Ghibli Ghibli as based on the book The Borrowers by Mary Norton. It won the 2010 Animated of the Year award at the 34th Japanese Academy Prize.

The movie begins with young Shō (Ryunosuke Kamiki / UK: Tom Holland) / US: David Henrie) moving into his mother's old house in Koganei in western Tokyo. There he is to be care for by his great aunt Sadako (Keiko Takeshita / UK: Phyllida Law / US: Gracie Poletti), although the reasons behind this are not immediately revealed. Upon his arrival, he spies the cat chasing after something in the tall grass but it's not clear what exactly. However a crow comes along and scares off the cat, revealing to Shō a brief glimpse of what appears to be a very tiny girl.

In time we learn that there are such little people living under the floorboards of the house and the girl he saw is named Arrietty (Mirai Shida / UK: Saoirse Ronan / US: Bridgit Mendler). She lives together with her father Pod (Tomokazu Miura / UK: Mark Strong / US: Will Arnett) and her mother Homily (Shinobu Ōtake / UK: Olivia Colman / Amy Poehler) and they are in fact "Borrowers", since they survive by "borrowing" supplies that are discarded or not needed by the rest of the regular-sized world. They do their best to live in secret as they survive on the cast-offs of the world and that very night will mark Arrietty's first chance to accompany her father on one of his borrowing expeditions.

The movie features the same degree of top-notch animation as we've come to expect from Studio Ghibli productions. Almost every detail of Arrietty's "secret" world is rendered with amazing precision with a lot of thought having gone into how their world might work. This includes small tidbits like crushing small biscuits for bread or relying on a piece of string attached to a leaky pipe to act as a slow yet steady faucet for them. It's in this precision that Studio Ghibli always shines as they always demonstrate just how much thought went into the production in order to help achieve their artistic vision and yet still have things make sense.

And I suppose that's something that always amazes me. It's more than just presenting things in a realistic and believable way. But it's being able to make us believe that their animated visions can indeed be part of our reality. We know very well that we're watching a cartoon - there's no going around that. But because of how well-done the movement is or how believable the cat can be at times, all these little elements contribute to a greater tapestry that is more often than not quite stunning. This movie is no exception as they show us just how much potential for storytelling can exist between our walls and beneath our floorboards.

Ironically enough, I have not read the original book nor have I seen any of the many movie adaptations of the book. So in terms of comparing the story to the original, there is little that I can comment on. But on its own, the story is quite lovely, although it does leave you with that sense of a somewhat open-ended resolution to things, but that's not exactly uncommon among Studio Ghibli releases either.

I think my only point of minor confusion is how the many Studio Ghibli movies have sort of conditioned us to expect certain traits from certain character archetypes. Any Ghibli fan knows how many of the supporting characters tend to share features with past characters in other movies. And for the most part, when they look alike they also tend to act in a similar manner. Thus the character of Aunt Sadako seemed weird towards the end since we tend to expect her to be the friendly yet quirky old woman and in this case she ended up being not quite that either. It's not a major problem with the movie itself mind you. Just a reminder to fellow Ghibli fans not to rely on the visual cues too much for characterization.

Overall, The Secret World of Arrietty remains to be yet another memorable magical journey brought to life by the beauty of animation. It is a treat for both the young and the old and definitely a movie to be treasured by Studio Ghibli fans around the world. Thus it gets a rating of 4 clever uses for household items in different ways out of 5.

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