Hiromasa Yonebayashi, close friend of Hayao Miyazaki, founder of Studio Ghilbi, brings his very first movie to the screen and what a treat it is. Studio Ghibli well known for it’s rather large portfolio of family movies and Karigurashi no Arrietty ( The Borrower Arrietty) deserves no less to be on that list. Though this is Yonebayashi’s first time directing his own film, the Studio Ghibli art and Miyazaki-style of storytelling are present and familiar. Ghibli movies range in both scale and theme, ranging from fantasy adventure to family slice-of-life and though the film definitely cannot be considered a grand epic (maybe one of miniature proportions) like Princess Mononoke or Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind, Karigurashi no Arrietty is a movie full of heart and quiet charm.
Set in modern day, the story follows Shou, a teenage-boy who moves into his great aunt’s house. Living there already are a family of tiny people, otherwise known as The Borrowers, a name referring to their habits of borrowing small human items that will not be missed. A 14-year-old Borrower named Arrietty strives to prove herself by helping her father gather materials that her family needs from Shou’s new home. When unexpected things begin to happen in the house, and the presence of The Borrower’s existence is revealed, Shou and Arrietty stand together to protect The Borrower’s way of life.
The biggest hallmark for this film is how well thought out and real the world from the Borrower’s perspective is. Aside from the stunning artwork (no less expected from Studio Ghibli), an astounding amount of attention is given to the little details in order to make the little people’s presence all that more believable. The idea of little people isn’t groundbreaking, looking at films such as Honey, I Shrunk the Kids, and A Bug’s Life, Yonebayashi brings a whole new dimension to the experience by using as many everyday items in the most unlikely places. It’s incredibly entertaining to spend moments in the movie just to find as many tiny treats that change. Items like fishing hooks, double-sided scotch tape, and spools of thread suddenly take on a whole new set of practical applications and traversing halfway across a kitchen suddenly feels like an adventure all on its own.
The most exposed weakness of the film its failure to create any substantial climactic conflict. The villian (if you could call her that) ended up being quite underwhelming, lacking any real back story or understanding of why she views the little people so negatively. Though films don’t necessarily need to have a villain character (a character battling with his own personality demons is more than enough material), when a villain is included, in the interest of the film, it’s essential to fully flesh the villain’s reasonings and purpose in the film. Despite the lack of any truly exciting confrontations, however, the Karigurashi no Arrietty is exceptionally strong in every other production area and otherwise feels tremendously solid.
One huge difference many Studio Ghibli fans will notice once the film’s opening credits start is the new soundtrack, adopting a more Celtic taste, in contrast to popular Joe Hisaishi. I have to admit, though it was jarring at first, the Celtic soundtrack is a huge success. Cécile Corbel’s (French singer and Celtic harpist) arrangements are definitely less “epic” or “uplifting” than Hisaishi’s, but considering the film’s overall construction and themes, it is well founded that the music should accompany the movie rather than lead it.
I found the innocently curious, yet straightforward and resolute attitude of Arrietty quite likable (in addition to her natural good looks). She forges a rather odd relationship with Shou, but as the two slowly begin to appreciate each other’s existence, a both bittersweet but admirable friendship is made. A truly remarkable of the film is how more emotion and thoughts could be seen exchanged between the characters through their silences rather than what they actually said. The subtle tensions and emotions are played upon quite well tremendously well and bring more weight to the story’s slightly shallow plot. A particular recurring sugar cube motif between the two main characters is especially sweet (no pun intended).
What ultimately makes Arrietty a great watch is the tremendous attention to the details of its setting, beautiful art, and fitting music. Each element is orchestrated and woven together almost seamlessly that, despite certain lacking characters, the film feels fresh and imaginative. Many scenes, from the perspective of the Borrower’s drastically change our view and renew a profound fascination for the most of boring objects as seen from five centimeters from the ground.As a premier film for a new director, Arietty is a truly a pleasant film and a testament to Yonebayashi’s potential as a filmmaker.