“The Secret World of Arrietty,” the latest film from Studio Ghibli, comes from the tradition of films like “The Secret of NIMH” and “Ratatouille” in which small creatures survive in a big world, taking what they can from humans without being noticed.
Though the film is directed by Hiromasa Yonebayashi, the hand of Hayao Miyazaki seems to be the dominant autuerist influence, as it is with almost all Ghibli films. Whenever a new Ghibli film is released, one could be forgiven for simply assuming it’s him directing.
Based on Mary Norton’s “The Borrowers,” a sickly boy named Shawn moves into the house his mother grew up in to stay temporarily with his great aunt. When he arrives, he spots what appears to be a tiny human-like girl scurrying through across the leaves of a bush. The girl is the titular Arrietty, who is a “borrower,” a tiny person who takes things that humans don’t need while staying out of site. Unbeknownst to its occupants, Arrietty lives under the floor of the house with her mother and father. Living in fear of humans, Arrietty’s parents decide they must move away when Shawn discovers their existence, but when a person with less-friendly intentions finds out about the presence of the borrowers, Shawn may be the only person capable of helping them survive and stay together.
“Arrietty” is a pleasant amalgam of whimsical adventure and quiet Japanese domestic drama, like a classic Disney production mixed with the meditative films of Yasujiro Ozu or Hirokazu Kore-Eda. The vocal performances on the American dub complement the subdued nature of the film. Will Arnett in particular, is uncharacteristically soft-spoken voicing Arrietty’s pragmatic father. The dynamic between Arrietty and her parents is one of the film’s strongest elements, as her gregarious free spirit comes from her father’s bravery and her mother’s extroverted personality has no place to go outside the family. Shawn is also of interest, as he seems to suffer alone as the specter of possible heart failure looms over him, but of course, his interactions with Arrietty give him a solid arc.
The perception the borrowers have of the world is deliciously designed, with water forming into thick beads and bugs bursting with personalities that vary from amusing companions to alarming threats. The sound design deserves special mention, as the music of crickets, the hum of the air conditioning, and the tick-tock of the grandfather clock further adds shades to an atmosphere that constructs a living, breathing world that these tiny characters inhabit. When the perception of the characters shifts from humans to borrowers, the way the sound is delivered changes in order to reflect experience based on the size of the character in a manner that goes beyond simply pumping up the volume.
Finally, the lush score by Cécile Corbel ties it all together tonally. The magical images that Ghibli provides, along with the rich soundscape, makes “Arrietty” a film that completely envelopes the senses, albeit subtly.
The Blu-ray has a few things going for it, including a viewing of the film in its storyboard form, Japanese trailers and commercials for the film, and a couple of music videos by Bridgit Mendler (who voices Arrietty in the film) and Corbel. Mendler’s song has a making-of doc to go with it, but really I’d rather have something that looks at the film itself, not examining a music video bundled with it. Despite meager extras,”Arrietty” is still one well worth experiencing at home, especially for those with kids.
Other Noteworthy Releases
Red Tails: Part of me is really interested in seeing this, being a red-blooded, meat-eating, beer-drinking male who loves a good war flick. The other part of me is still grumpily butthurt over pretty much everything George Lucas has been involved with in the past couple of decades.
The Woman in Black: It’s wonderful to see that Hammer Studios is having a successful resurgence with movies like this one. Unfortunately I missed this horror film in the theater but I look forward to catching up with it.
This Means War: Here’s a pro-tip: if a guy who simply refers to himself as “McG” wants to direct your movie, don’t let him. It will only end in tears for everyone, especially the audience. I guess that Tom Hardy bloke IS human after all.
Castle in the Sky: Another Studio Ghibli release, this one being Miyazaki’s beloved film from 1986. As much as I loved most of his films growing up, this one I could never really get into, which is surprising since I love fantasy ideas like air pirates and floating kingdoms. A revisit is in my future as I skim through the Ghibli catalog again.
Available on Blu-ray/DVD combo
Whisper of the Heart: The first and only film directed by the late Yoshifumi Kondō from Studio Ghibli. Released in 1995, the film is the story of a young girl who goes on a journey through imagination with an enigmatic cat as she decides to pursue her talents. Ghibli produced a spin-off of this film in 2002, entitled “The Cat Returns.”
Available on Blu-ray/DVD combo
Certified Copy: Abbas Kiarostami’s film starring Juliette Binoche and William Shimell was one of last year’s most acclaimed films. It’s been available for some time on NetFlix Instant and Amazon Instant, but it’s now coming to Blu-ray and DVD courtesy of the Criterion Collection.
Up All Night with Robert Downey Sr.: Criterion’s Eclipse series is releasing this collection of films by Robert Downey Sr., whose work in the underground film scene in New York during the sixties can only be described as completely and utterly bonkers. This set includes “Babo 73,” “Chafed Elbows,” “No More Excuses,” “Two Tons of Turquoise to Taos Tonight” (gotta love that title), and his most famous film (and a personal favorite), “Putney Swope.”
In “Putney Swope,” Downey gleefully tackles race, media, and politics with a pocket full of anarchy. Relentless and ruthless, it leaves you breathless with laughter, and mouth-agape in disbelief.
The titular Swope is the lone black guy on the board of a high-profile ad agency who is accidentally voted into power when the chairman suddenly dies. He swiftly changes the name of the company to “Truth & Soul” and sets out to brutally subvert the advertising world. We then witness scantily clad girls bouncing on trampolines advertising airlines, a young interracial couple from “Hair” singing about pimple cream, and a lady “with soul” dancing through an alley, proclaiming that “you can’t eat an air conditioner.” But the corrupting influence of power is colorblind, and soon Swope begins stealing everyone’s ideas, wantonly firing people, behaving like a cruel despot, even going so far as to chomp a cigar and dress like Castro, leading to a bomb-throwing finale.
No one is safe, nothing is sacred. I am in awe of “Putney Swope;” it’s a blisteringly funny satire that has only gained relevance since its release.
Available on DVD
This post originally appeared over at Parcbench