Studio Ghibli’s 2010 film, Arrietty, is the gazillionth adaptation of Mary Norton’s ‘The Borrowers’, and I had already seen the 1992 BBC TV series and the 1997 US feature. I also find it strange that Ghibli often choose Western material to adapt, as with Howls’ Moving Castle and Tales of Earthsea – I’d much rather see something distinctly Japanese. As a consequence of these two factors, I wasn’t incredibly keen on this film.
That being said, Arrietty is up to Ghibli’s usual high standard. The title character is one of a family of miniature folk that live under the floor and within the walls of a human family’s residence. At the beginning of the film, young Arrietty (Mirai Shida) gets to go out on her first expedition to ‘borrow’ (read: steal) items from the human world in order to sustain their existence. When she accidentally comes face to face with Shô (Ryûnosuke Kamiki), a sickly 12 year old boy, the borrowers’ very existence is placed under threat.
The animation is beautiful and the attention to detail is incredible. Watching the tiny folk move about the human house with improvised tools – fishhooks for grabbling hooks, double sided stickytape as climbing gear – is fantastic. The film is filled with moments that prove the animators thought long and hard about this secret world.
The film doesn’t stick closely to the original novel, which is perfectly acceptable since we’ve seen so many other versions, but Arrietty does feel like it’s missing a final act. One of the most basic tenets of screenplays is that they are filled with set-ups and payoffs. Watching this film, you can see the set-ups flicking past, one after the other. There are at least half a dozen such moments that feel like they’ll be important later on. But then, astonishingly, nothing comes to fruition. This doesn’t feel clever or deliberately anti-convention; it simply feels unfinished. If this were perhaps a pilot for a TV series, or even the first of a trilogy, then I would understand, but the absence of a satisfactory climax and/or conclusion doesn’t work in the film’s favour at all.
The Blu-ray presentation is absolutely stunning, and in a clever move, we get not only the original Japanese audio but also both the English and American dubs. Thus, you can choose whether you want Arrietty to be voiced by Shida, Saoirse Ronan or Bridgit Mendler. There is also a picture-in-picture mode featuring storyboards for the entire film, as well as interviews with the English cast. The standout extra, however, would have to be the hilariously blunt interview with Hayao Miyazaki himself, talking about what it’s like to work with director Hiromasa Yonebayashi. There’s none of the usual flattery and reverence; instead Miyazaki goes off on tangents, criticising the man’s posture or the fact that he’s only slightly ambitious.
Basically, Arrietty is a solid feature, but it suffers from the same problem I often complain about when it comes to Ghibli films – all the good stuff is at the beginning and the film trails off into silence rather than ending with a bang. I appreciate that a lot of kids’ animations get distracted by the need to fill the screen with colourful action (such as Oblivion Island – Haruka and the Magic Mirror or Cars 2), but it would have been nice if this film had raised the stakes just a little.
Arrietty is available now from Madman on Blu-ray and DVD.Rating: