Monday, February 20, 2012

Review: The Secret World of Arrietty

Arrietty, The Secret World of Arrietty, The Borrower Arrietty, Kari-gurashi no Arietti; whichever name you choose, is the first Studio Ghibli film to receive a wide scale theatrical release of over 1,500 theaters in the United States by Disney. And while it doesn’t quite compare to the high standards set by other films in the Japanese company’s beautiful catalog, Arrietty does hold up on its own. An adaptation of Mary Norton’s novel “The Borrowers”, the film follows the survival of a miniature girl named Arrietty. And when I mean miniature, I mean only a few inches tall! She and her family face the struggling fact that they may be the very last of their kind, all while facing the looming threat of being discovered by a human being. Yet with Arrietty being the adventurous type, it’s clear that it’s only a matter of time before her existence becomes a reality.

Arrietty, her mother Homily, and her father Pod are known as “borrowers” and they only take what they need. They live in a small dwelling underneath the floorboards of an older Japanese countryside home. It seems they are the only borrowers left in the area, but that doesn’t stop the curious Arrietty from wanting to go out on borrowing missions with Pod. One such mission leads to Arrietty being discovered by the young boy Sho, who is staying at the house to rest from a heart sickness. Sho’s discovery of the borrowers leads to the threatening situation that Pod, Homily, and Arrietty must decide whether or not to leave in order to avoid any problems. Human beings are one of the largest threats to borrowers, and while Arrietty wants to become friends with Sho, her parents strictly forbid her from doing so.

Arrietty was released in Japan in 2009 and has had 2 years to garner releases in multiple countries before making its appearance in the United States. This means the film has been translated into multiple languages, and it’s the first Studio Ghibli film that has differing English dubs between the United Kingdom and the United States. Although not a huge issue, the names of some characters in Disney’s North American dub have been altered. For example, Sho is known as “Shawn” and the household’s maid “Haru” is known as Hara in North America. This is a small attempt to make the film have a more westernized appeal, which makes sense in a way as the only clues that Arrietty was made in Japan come from Japanese text that appear on newspapers and food labels.

While the film has a plot, the antagonist in Arrietty becomes a threat fairly late in the story. I am not sure if this is similar to the plot found in the original novel or if this is director Hiromasa Yonebayashi’s visualization of the screenplay, which by the way was written by longtime Ghibli veteran Hayao Miyazaki. I both like and dislike the idea of having an antagonist have no real presence until the later half of the film, as it allows for Arrietty to have this natural feeling that gives a “day in the life” presentation of the borrowers. Unless the fact that Sho discovers them is meant to be the main source of conflict in the film, which in a way it is, Arrietty may have more of a plot than I am giving credit. Yet Sho’s easygoing and simple-minded character trait that he only wants to help people dissolves this conflict greatly. In my opinion, the non-existence of a serious conflict somewhat deviates Arrietty from other Ghibli films, and this is why I do not see it as strong as them. Compare the conflict in Arrietty to Chihiro trying to find her parents in Spirited Away, Sasuke looking for his mother and saving Ponyo in Ponyo, or Satsuki’s determination to find her missing sister Mei in My Neighbor Totoro and you will see what I mean.

Yet Arrietty retains those few key moments that make the film feel like something from Studio Ghibli. They may be few and far between, but they are there. They are the moments that remind you what it feels like to be a child, expressing a simple feeling of warmth that touches your heart. The curious mind of the 14-year-old Arrietty reminds you of what it was like to be her age, which is why Arrietty appeals to both younger and older audiences. Children will enjoy it for its adventurous tones and expressive female lead, while adults will be reminded with the nostalgic feelings of growing up. While Arrietty may not be the strongest Ghibli film in recent years, it does possess the qualities of a fun and entertaining film.

-Jared Cyhowski

1 comment:

  1. I saw it Friday, and I did enjoy it, but I completely agree with you that it's not as strong as other Ghibli films.

    A couple things I noticed in the English version. In some scenes they attempted to "correct" the appearance of the scene to not look Japanese (mirroring a book to be read left to right instead of the Japanese right to left) and also mirroring cars so that the driver is on the left instead of the right. The problem is that they didn't do every scene, so one scene Sho's reading the book like an american, then the next he's reading it Japanese. Also, I noticed one line Arrietty had after Sho put the dollhouse kitchen in their house "It looks like a trainwreck!" How does Arrietty know what a train is? It's very unlikely that her or her family have ever ventured far enough to see an actual train, and of course "borrower" sized trains don't exist (unless you count model trains, but as they don't borrow from dollhouses, I'm sure they would stay far away from something like a model train). Anyways, just small nitpicks, but things I noticed. Was a great dub overall.