Ever since the majority of Studio Ghibli’s movies have been put on Netflix here in the UK, I have been trying to watch the lot of them. Studio Ghibli is a Japanese animation film studio, that produces anime feature films, and short films. It was founded in 1985, and Hayao Miyazaki is known for being one of the biggest directors in studio. The studio have produced several iconic films, such as Spirited Away (2001), My Neighbour Totoro (1988) and Princess Mononoke (1997).
They have, however, produced a variety of smaller, lesser-seen movies, including 2010’s Arrietty (or The Secret World of Arrietty as released in the US). The movie marks one of the fare few occasions where the film was not directed by Miyazaki – the film was directed by Hiromasa Yonebayashi. The film was made in the period that was the run up to Miyazaki’s retirement from the company, which came after his 2013 film, The Wind Rises (although, he has announced that he is returning to the studio with How Do You Live?).
The film is one of the few Ghibli productions to have been based from a classic English novel, The Borrowers by Mary Norton. The plot resolves a family of three “tiny people”, who are live secretly in the walls and floors of a household, borrowing items to survive. Soon, a young boy, Sho (Ryunosuke Kamiki), who moves to the house, and forms a friendship with the daughter of the tiny people, Arrietty (Mirai Shida). The film has two dubbed versions, one released in the US and one in the UK. The cast for the US version includes Bridgit Mendler, David Henrie, Amy Poehler, Carol Burnett, and Will Arnett, while the UK cast includes Saoirse Ronan, Olivia Colman, Phyllida Law, Mark Strong, and makes the feature debut of Spider-Man’s own Tom Holland.
Over the course of the film, we the 14-year-old Arrietty deal with growing up, and have to face more “adult” missions of gaining supplies from the house. We see her deal with more independence, and the prospect of her family having to move away and go to a new home. This is a element of many Studio Ghibli movies – they often feature a young protagonist (normally in the early to mid teens), and their journey into the real world. Arrietty as a character is very similar to Spirited Away’s Chihiro and Kiki’s Delivery Service’s Kiki. The Studio Ghibli movies do what the Pixar movies do in which they feel very relatable and accessible for younger viewers, but has a lot of adult fans too.
Arrietty, however, as opposed to many of Miyazaki’s movies, lacks the epic scope of his works. There is no real large group of characters, and there is not a lot really at stake here. Much like the lead characters of the film, the film itself has a much smaller scale, and lesser stakes. The film does, however, take great attention to the little details of the Borrower lifestyle – how they have made a human lifestyle around them, and how they are steal from the humans.
The film is also exquisitely detailed and intricate with it’s animation, much like all of the Studio Ghibli movies. It is really refreshing to watch these animations, as they often use hand-drawn animation, as opposed to the computer-generated animation. Hand-drawn animation is really wonderful to see, firstly because it is not used as much recently, but also brings a tactile, and personal element to the film.
The animation is also really beautiful. The landscape shots of the film are particularly gorgeous – they feel like really beautiful watercolour paintings. It feels as though you could pause any frame of this film and it could be a beautiful painting that belonged in a gallery.
There are some flaws to the film, and much of that comes from just how small-scale the film is. The film struggles to pin down a consistent plot, and the connection between Arrietty and Sho is not very fleshed-out. Although, much of the charm with the film is how wonderfully small-scale the film is, this can equally be a little frustrating, as it sometimes lacks a little engagement.
There are also various characters that feel slightly one-note, particularly the “villain” of the film, Haru, the maid of the house, who threatens the borrowers’ lifestyle. Her villainous actions never really feel justified or explained, and the film might have better without her. Also, Arrietty’s mother, Homily could of got more development – often, throughout the film, it feels like she is demoted to a screaming and nagging stereotype.
Despite that, however, Arrietty is another wonderful addition to the Studio Ghibli canon – it is beautifully animated and really sweet. Well worth a look, even if it doesn’t live up to the likes of My Neighbour Totoro and Spirited Away.