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Posts Tagged ‘Arrietty’

Not being the owner of children does free me up to visit the cinema with the frequency to which I am accustomed, but it also inevitably impacts on the types of film I usually go to see. This is why regular readers will not be living in fear and trembling of my starting to wiffle on about Cars 2 or The Smurfs, for example. However, I have nothing against the idea of young people going to the cinema (as long as they keep their damn mouths shut if they’re there at the same time as me) and I’m all in favour of them being given high-quality films to enjoy while they’re there.

A well-made children’s film is self-evidently also going to be a well-made film, and I’m always interested in seeing one of those. Into this category we may place Hiromasa Yonebayashi’s Arrietty, the latest production of the revered Japanese animation house Studio Ghibli. This movie is based on Mary Norton’s much-loved series of Borrowers books (already previously adapted for film and TV in live-action).

The title character, Arrietty, is a Borrower herself. The Borrowers are, basically, little people (just about the right size to fit in a hot dog bun), who live secretly in the houses of human beings. They scavenge all their requirements from the property of their oblivious hosts, something they slightly euphemistically refer to as ‘Borrowing’. (I would have expected outrage from the Daily Mail about the exploits of a clan of unemployed light-fingered squatters being the focus of a children’s animation, but the fact the Borrowers don’t appear to claim benefits may have helped their cause somewhat.)

Arrietty is fourteen, just about the age when she has to learn how to Borrow properly herself, and so she accompanies her father into the vast interior of the house in which they live. Things do not go according to plan and Arrietty finds herself developing an unlikely friendship with a lonely human boy staying in the house. However, the code of the Borrowers insists they avoid all contact with humans, and Arrietty finds herself torn between her new friendship and the wellbeing of her family.

To be honest, not an enormous amount happens in terms of plot in Arrietty, but this doesn’t stop the film being almost irresistibly charming, and beautiful to look at too. The skill and attention to detail of the Ghibli animators is unparallelled in the world today, and their work (coupled to a very sweetly melodic soundtrack) basically had me smiling like a dope from the start of the film to the end.

Given this is a film originally made for the domestic Japanese market, it’s not entirely surprising that Studio Ghibli have opted to relocate the story from a timeless Britain to contemporary Japan, but apart from this there are very few signs of them having done serious violence to the source material. An environmentally-friendly angle has been inserted, not terribly subtly (but then Borrowers probably are an endangered species), and there are a few scenes with Studio Ghibli’s trademark gribbly creatures, but the whole thing hangs together very well. It’s a real pleasure to see not just a hand-drawn animation, but one which doesn’t feel the requirement to be all arch and knowing and work on a number of levels and engage in film and TV pastiches.

Instead, it relies on the classic storytelling virtues of character and plot and atmosphere. This may not prove to be an absolute timeless classic like other Ghibli productions such as Spirited Away or Mononoke, but at the same time there’s very little that’s obviously wrong with it. I could complain that the ending of the film doesn’t seem to have much connection with its climax, and almost seems unnecessarily downbeat, but this is really very minor stuff compared to all the good things happening in this movie. A film I hope to be sliding a DVD of into my niece’s Christmas stocking in a few years’ time, and I can’t think of much higher recommendation than that.

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