Arrietty (2011, Hiromasa Yonebayashi)
Studio Ghibli offers its own adaptation of Mary Norton’s novel ‘The Borrowers’ in Hiromasa
Yonebayashi’s directorial debut Arrietty. Winning ‘Animation of the Year’ at the 34th Japan
Academy Prize Awards, the animated picture follows 14-year-old Arrietty and her family
who live under the floorboards of a house in Koganei, Tokyo. However, when Sho, a 12-year-
old boy suffering from a heart illness, discovers Arrietty an unlikely friendship begins to
blossom, but it’s a friendship that is under threat from the maid of the house.
Studio Ghibli’s quintessential animated style and visual prowess return. With a
colourful palette, rich backgrounds and fluid motion, Arrietty is a gorgeous looking film.
The narrative world Yonebayashi creates, though ironically small in size, is populated
with an immense sense of detail and a unique, charming atmosphere that complements
the relatively subtle characters and relaxed story. Its simplistic plot is a light-hearted and
whimsical affair that remains enjoyable and engaging throughout the runtime. Humorous
and smart dialogue bode well for the younger members of the audience, and offers a few
chuckles for the adults. Meanwhile, Cecile Corbel’s soundtrack is a brave and enlightened
departure from the regular use of Japanese composers. A ‘Celtic’ influenced score works
remarkably well, adding further charisma to the film’s visual engagement.
The sheer simplistic nature of the film’s story and personalities slightly backfires in
its characters. While the Japanese voice acting is solid as usual and the English dub is
commendable, there is a lack of substance to the likes of Spiller, Pod and Homily. Sho in
particular is underdeveloped and shallow. The heart-illness aspect to his character never
fully materialises, and his personality seems somewhat misguided. The story itself feels
almost too basic, playing towards a much younger audience than Ghibli’s previous works.
The ‘coming-of-age’ emotional depth that the film aspires to never fully develops, and it
fails to build the confidence to explore characters or plot points outside its restrained nature.
The typical moral themes of environmentalism inevitably weave their way into the narrative
and become far too forced and undeniably tedious. These issues never break the film, but
in light of the studio’s other works, Arrietty seems like a missed opportunity to uniquely
branch out from Norton’s original novel.
Overall it’s a charming directorial debut from another promising talent in Studio Ghibli.
While it doesn’t contain the same subtle and memorable intricacies and complexities of
Hayao Miyazaki’s or Isao Takahata’s work, the film thrives under a well-rooted story and
The DVD release contains the usual extras. Interviews with Hayao Miyazaki,
Hiromasa Yonebayashi and various members of the English voice actors (Mark Strong,
Olivia Coleman, Saoirse Ronan) are enjoyable to watch, but nothing particularly special.
Studio Ghibli also adds its accustomed ‘Storyboard’ option that adds the original
storyboards into the top right corner of the frame. It’s a neat touch.