Review: Arrietty-Kari-gurashi no Arietti (2010)

Arrietty-Kari-gurashi no Arietti (2010)

Directed by: Hiromasa Yonebayashi | 94 minutes | animation, fantasy | Original voice cast: Mirai Shida, Ryûnosuke Kamiki, Shinobu Ôtake, Keiko Takeshita, Tatsuya Fujiwara, Tomokazu Miura, Kirin Kiki

Animation films from Studio Ghibli are immensely popular, especially in Asia. The studio set up by master animator Hayao Miyazaki is also growing steadily in Europe and the US, thanks to the success of films such as ‘Spirited Away’ (2001 – the film that won the Oscar for best animated film), ‘Howl’s Moving Castle’ (2004) and ‘Ponyo on the Cliff by the Sea’ (2008). The older films of Ghibli, which was already established in 1985, are also gaining recognition retroactively. Although Miyazaki and colleague Isao Takahata have long since reached retirement age, they continue to make films. However, follow-up is also being worked on. Hiromasa Yonebayashi is eager to take over and was given the opportunity by Miyazaki to make his directorial debut with ‘Arrietty’ (2010). The story about the tiny girl Arrietty had been shelved for forty (!) years, so it was high time to finally release the film.

Fourteen-year-old Arrietty, like the rest of her family, is so small that they can live under the floors of normal people’s houses. They have always managed to keep their existence hidden and they want to keep it that way. Their own house consists of things that they have ‘borrowed’ from normal people. When Arrietty goes “borrowing” with her father for the first time, she is noticed by Sho, a boy her own age but of normal size, who is staying with his aunt while waiting for his surgery. Although Arrietty’s parents have strictly forbidden her to visit the grown-up world, Sho makes her curious. She soon discovers, however, that not all people approach her as friendly as Sho; some of them you better get out of the way.

It is clear to see that, although Yonebayashi was directing, Miyazaki has been emphatically present in the background to direct his pupil. He wrote the screenplay and helped Yonebayashi develop the storyboards. The animations are therefore unmistakably from Ghibli’s stable. The story is fairly conventional and will appeal to different age groups. The adventurous, engaging Arrietty does not have to make any effort to win the viewer’s sympathy. She is a lively and colorful girl who embraces you with love. An early highlight in the film is when she sneaks into the house with her father to borrow a lump of sugar and a tissue from the grown-ups. The scene is made with a great eye for detail and the animations are beautifully worked out (the shadow play when Sho discovers Arrietty is wonderful!), as we have come to expect from the Ghibli Studio. Moreover, just like the clever use of sound effects, it also enhances the experience of the viewer, who for a moment feels just as small as Arrietty and her father.

The story of ‘Arrietty’ is light-hearted and innocent. Only once in a while, serious matters that play in the background are touched upon. We get a pessimistic speech from the sick Sho, who differs in tone from the rest of the film and therefore seems out of place. Together with the sometimes very melodramatic soundtrack by French singer Cécile Corbel, this is the only blemish on an otherwise excellent debut by Miyazaki’s intended successor Hiromasa Yonebayashi. ‘Arrietty’ is a touching and sweet little film that manages to win over its audience without any effort thanks to an engaging and charming main character and beautiful animations. Perhaps not the most imaginative or original film from Ghibli’s stable, but certainly one of the most heartwarming.

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