Arrietty won the Japan Academy Prize for Best Animation in 2011. Just consider that for a moment. Japan is effectively the anime nation – and this movie was crowned top dog. It’s easy to see why however, as Arrietty continues the Studio Ghibli tradition of sincere storytelling and sublime, imaginative visuals.
For those who don’t know, Studio Ghibli is basically the Japanese equivalent of Disney. Extending the metaphor, studio co-founder Hayao Miyazaki (Ponyo, Spirited Away) is perhaps the greatest of all Japanese animators and bears comparison to Walt Disney himself. It should be noted that Miyazaki didn’t direct Arrietty – that responsibility was ably shouldered by debuting director Hiromasa Yonebayashi – though he did co-write the screenplay so his influence is nonetheless felt throughout.
An adaptation of Mary Norton’s novel ‘The Borrowers’, Arrietty tells the story of a young borrower called Arrietty who lives with her mother and father in their makeshift home of bricks, buttons, pins and needles. Borrowers are essentially Minish, miniature-size people, maybe a few inches tall, who survive by ‘borrowing’ what they need from the terribly tall and fearsome human beings – the trick is to do it without being seen.
But one night out borrowing Arrietty is spotted by a bedridden boy awaiting heart surgery. This causes a chain of events that sees her strike up a forbidden friendship but ultimately threatens the safety and security of her family’s existence. It’s a touching tale, a little more sombre than Ponyo but also a little more mature, and while it lacks the epic scope of Studio Ghibli classics such as Princess Mononoke it makes up for it with its earthy, heart-warming tone.
The film is bright, colourful and vividly animated, making effective use of depth (without 3D!) and sound to turn an otherwise ordinary house into a gigantic and eerily ominous playground for Arrietty. Cockroaches and cats are gigantic and threatening, simple sounds reverberate and echo and resources such as sugar cubes last months for the little people. It’s a terrific atmosphere that really pulled me into the experience in a way that only 2D animation can, and it’s underpinned by a standout Celtic-sounding score by French composer Cécile Corbel – the theme song is great too!
My only gripe is that the film is simply too short, clocking in at only 94 minutes. It’s a shame because I felt like there was more story to tell; I wasn’t expecting it to end when it did. It’s nice that there’s an epilogue of sorts that’s shown when the credits play but it’s not enough to quell my disappointment.
I saw Arrietty in its original Japanese dub but there are also a couple of English dubs going around. The UK dub is currently being shown in Australia and features the voices of Mark Strong and Saoirse Ronan among others, though you can also catch it in its original Japanese. Studio Ghibli movies have a record of strong dubs with particularly good translations and I’ve no doubt the same is true here.
In any case, like its tiny heroine, Arrietty may be short but it’s brimming with character and confidence. Sadly, also like the hard-to-spot borrowers, Arrietty is hard to find in cinemas but I strongly recommend searching it out – it’s a shining example of honest, heartfelt storytelling.