Studio Ghibli's latest animated wonder is The Borrower Arrietty retitled Arrietty for it's western release, with a screenplay from Hayao Miyazaki based on the novel The Borrowers by Mary Norton. The movie marks the directorial debut of animator Hiromasa Yonebayashi.
Arrietty is a Borrower, a race of tiny people who live amongst the humans and "borrow" from them what they need to live and be comfortable. All the time being careful not to take something from the "Human Beans" they might miss and absolutely never be seen by them. Arrietty lives with her family under the floorboards of a house. This house gets a new inhabitant when Sho, a sick twelve year old boy comes to stay. On his arrival he spots Arrietty in the garden and this glimpse piques his curiosity and sets in motion a chain of events that could spell disaster for The Borrowers.
The film is instantly recognisable as a Ghibli movie in both aesthetic and thematic style, the unmistakeable character designs and the remarkable detail in the backgrounds give away the movie's heritage immediately, added to this the familiar themes of nature and environmental concerns, a strong female teenage protagonist, illness and a split family. It doesn't seem to matter how many times Ghibli and Miyazaki cover familiar territory, it always feels fresh and exciting and Arrietty is no different in that regard. However, what the film lacks is a little of the Ghibli magic, for a film with this subject matter it's maybe a little too grounded in reality, it's a minor point really as it works very well in this pseudo realistic manner.
Arrietty is another great central character in a long line of them from the studio, intelligent, resourceful, courageous and full of spirit. Much is made during the film of how fragile the borrowers place in the world is and how it doesn't take very much to endanger them, with Arrietty's parents this is understandable. Her mother is a terrible worrier and her father, while stoic is very much set in his ways, refusing to accept that a different path can be taken. Arrietty on the other hand gives you hope for the future, as she adapts to different situations in a way her parents cannot or will not. This spirit comes from the odd relationship that blossoms between the centimetres high Arrietty and Sho, the small and weak boy with a heart complaint. A strong bond is created between them that gives them both the strength they need to face their individual problems.
The film is brought to wonderful life through the incredible animation and the amazingly sumptuous detail in the backgrounds. Whether it be the beautiful garden or the tangible spaces between the floorboards the borrowers have made their home, it all feels wonderfully real as they move around from their tiny world into the human space.
Space is a huge word here, the scenes of Arrietty and her father traversing the human world are some of the best scenes in the film, with a tremendous sense of scale and scope. This is helped by some wonderful sound design that really places you in the middle of the action, a scene where they enter Sho's room to try to borrow a tissue is a fantastic example of this, as they walk into the room, you can almost feel the noise from a ticking clock. There are numerous examples of this throughout and it adds immeasurably to the movie. It's to Yonebayashi's credit that on his debut effort he achieves such excellence, and leaves me full of confidence that Ghibli has a director who can carry the torch when Miyazaki stops working.
Arrietty is a charming and delightful movie that I would highly recommend to anyone, and if not top tier Ghibli, then that's only because it would have to be perfect to reach that level, it's pretty close though!