Last updated: March 1, 2012 9:55 am
Movie review: The Secret World of Arrietty
Film a brilliant work by Hiromasa Yonebayashi
BURNABY, B.C. (CUP) — The Secret World of Arrietty wasn’t directed by animation maestro Hayao Miyazaki, but it fits handily into his canon, in no small part because he helped to write and plan the production — while still proving at long last that Studio Ghibli can reliably proceed with directors other than Miyazaki and Isao Takahata.
Though there have been Ghibli films from other directors, Arrietty is the first which feels like a major work, fully and brilliantly realized by masterful hands — the most important of which belong to Hiromasa Yonebayashi, who flawlessly crafts a story of quintessentially broad perspective: A family of four-inch humans live hidden away in the home of regular-sized humans.
The story is as gentle as they come: The family of “Borrowers” takes what they need to survive from human stockpiles (a sugar cube here, a tissue there) without being seen. The sole child in the family, Arrietty, is spotted by a human boy who has come to visit, and the discovery sends their secret lives into turmoil.
That story, which is based on the English novel The Borrowers, confronts mortality with surprising maturity. In one scene, the boy speculates that Borrowers are an endangered species doomed for extinction. It seems, at first, to be the insensitive fantasy of an adolescent; the boy soon admits that he has a probably fatal heart condition and is days from an operation that probably won’t save his life.
As the boy’s operation draws nearer and the Borrowers face possible extermination, neither party has a solution for the other’s problems. They take their best option: to live gracefully and with sympathy for one another, regardless of their dubious futures. It is, to be sure, a welcome variation from typical family fare, which too often seems in denial of death.
It is a testament to the animators’ technical skill that Arrietty’s execution surpasses its premise. The Borrowers’ world is fully realized; one can forget that they’re tiny until noticing a detail like a water droplet the size of Arrietty’s head. Each character moves with elaborate, realistic beauty, and facial animations act out each character’s performance subtly. Some of the moving-perspective shots are among the best I’ve seen this side of The Thief and the Cobbler. Technically, emotionally, and thematically, it’s complete and intelligent enough to rank among the great films of Studio Ghibli.