Sunday, July 31, 2011


Directed by: Hiromasa Yonebayashi
Produced by: Toshio Suzuki
Screenplay by: Hayao Miyazaki; Keiko Niwa;
Based on: The Borrowers by Mary Norton
Studio: Studio Ghibli
Release date: July 17, 2010
Running time: 94 minutes
Country: Japan
Language: Japanese
Budget $23 million

A Studio Ghibli film is always an occasion. It is Japan’s most popular animation studio, and it is associated with Hayao Miyazaki, the greatest animation filmmaker, shall we say, ever. Miyazaki, who gave us such wonderful films like Spirited Away, My Neighbour Totoro and Princess Mononoke, is often called the Walt Disney of the East, which is really an understatement, for Miyazaki is much more. His films are not kids’ stuff, they are more nuanced and more complex than the candyfloss sweetness of Disney films.

Studio Ghibli has so far released 18 films, not all of them directed by Miyazaki (for example, the devastating anti-war masterpiece Grave of the Fireflies), but has overseen most of the productions. His last film was the wonderful Ponyo (2008), the story of a goldfish who wants to be a human girl, and a study of climate change.

Not all Studio Ghibli films are in the same league. For example, Tales from Earthsea (2006), based on Ursula K LeGuin fantasy novels was a letdown. Yet, it a far better film than so many animation films made in Hollywood. For one thing, the animations are always 2D hand-drawn, filled with glorious colours, unlike the CGI-powered 3D animation used in all current Hollywood films. The films have an old-world charm, which is quite fascinating.

Apart from Tales from Earthsea, Studio Ghibli has done several films where the source material is not Japanese, but British. For example, Howl’s Moving Castle (2004) based on Diana Wynne Jones’ novel of the same name, and Arrietty (2010).

Directed by Hiromasa Yonebayashi, Arrietty is an adaptation of British writer Mary Norton’s classic The Borrowers (1952), which won a Carengie medal, had several sequels and adapted to film on several occasions. Yet, Arrietty is a typical Japanese Studio Ghibli film, with its plucky heroine, its rural setting, its understanding of family values, its colourful rendition of the scenery and an unhurried pace of narration.

So, we know about the Lilliputs. We have heard stories of Tom Thumb and Thumbelina, Now, here they are, the Borrowers. They are the tiny people who live beneath the houses of big people they call Human Beans (corruption of human beings). They are borrowers because they take stuff from the big people, stuff that the big people won’t miss, like a cube of sugar, or a tissue paper. While they are scared of mice, they have one irrevocable rule, they cannot be seen by the big people.

Arrietty lives with her parents beneath a country house in Japan. While her father goes on borrowing expeditions, her mother is a housewife, and they have a happy existence, only that they may be the only ones of their kind. One day, a sickly boy comes to live in the house, and he sees Arrietty. Then he hears about the myth of little people from his aunt, and strikes a friendship with Arrietty. The 14-year-old little girl is curious about the world outside and about the big people, yet, her father forbids her to show herself to human beans.

Things become complicated when the maid who takes care of the boy also comes to know about the existence of the little people and becomes quite determined to catch them. She actually does catch Arrietty’s mother. Now, the young girl must team up with the sickly boy to save her family before moving out. In the process, they also learns about friendship and love and so on an so forth.

Unlike the clunky, action-packed presentation of the regular Hollywood anime movies, Arrietty is quiet, like a summer breeze. It is even quieter than Ponyo, which had raging storms as plot-points, and it this serious tone of the narrative that elevates the film from being a mere anime, a mere fantasy; it becomes a complete movie experience, far, far better than last year’s disastrous Gulliver’s Travels. I mean, this is not even a comparison.

More on The Borrowers Here.
More on Arrietty Here.

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