Genre: Fantasy / Drama
Version reviewed: English (US) Dubbed
Date of Review: 05 Apr 2012
This film was retitled The Secret World of Arrietty for its US release.
Ghibli strikes gold once more, again with one of their next generation of directors.
Arrietty, who is nearly fourteen years old, is ready for her first “borrowing” – when the little people known as Borrowers go to a human’s home to find the things they need to survive. The borrowing goes rather well until a young boy sees her while trying to retrieve an item, and Arrietty fears that her family may now be in danger.
Attention to detail, attention to detail, attention to detail. That has always been Studio Ghibli’s hallmark. Never has it been more apparent than here in Arrietty. This is a story which takes place largely from the perspective of very small people, and the world of the small is captured with exceptional detail. If not done properly, seeing things from ground level and close up can come across as a regular person in a giant world, but not with Arrietty. The scale is presented just right, and it is apparent that the world has been magnified and is not just very big. Liquids do not flow at this scale, they trickle as droplets. Sewing pins are the perfect size for a sword. Nails and spools of string provide ways to get around behind the walls of a human house. The world from the eyes of a Borrower is captured as it should be.
Though supervised and with a screenplay by Hayao Miyazaki, Arrietty marks the debut of the Ghibli’s youngest director to date: Hiromasa Yonebayashi. The result is no less memorable than the canon of the studio’s senior director. As for the feel of the film itself, it fits somewhere between Kiki’s Delivery Service and Whisper of the Heart. The flow is very relaxed, never needing to rush anything. In fact, much of the first act of the film takes place nearly in real time. Once more, Ghibli chooses to stand by traditional methods of animation, only using CG sparingly and without drawing attention to itself. The animation quality is unsurpassed, keeping with Ghibli’s high standards.
Arrietty’s score marks another departure for the studio. Instead of longtime collaborator Joe Hisaishi, the music and songs are provided by French harpist Cécile Corbet. Her gentle voice and airy arrangements complement the imagery and rural Japanese setting quite well. Having watched Disney’s North American dub, there are no major faults to be found. My only issue was with Sho’s (renamed Shawn in Disney’s dub) voice actor; his voice did not seem to fit the character at all, sounding a bit too old for the part. Arrietty also marks the first time that a Ghibli film has had two simultaneous English dubs: The UK had its own cast for its English version.
Arrietty herself is a delightful lead character, continuing the Ghibli tradition of a strong girl driving the story, and has become one of my favorite Ghibli leads. The cast is fairly small (no pun intended), allowing each character to fill their role in the story well. Arrietty’s family and Sho’s family (including their feisty cat) comprise most of the characters in the film.
The Borrower Arrietty has quickly become one of my favorite Ghibli films. The characters and storytelling style suit my tastes well, and make it very enjoyable to watch. The differences in Japanese and American storytelling (particularly for anything with children in mind as its audience) are readily apparent when it comes to the film’s conclusion, but to say any more would be too much. As is usually the case with a film, my best advice is to simply watch Arrietty and let the story take you along.