Studio Ghibli takes on The Borrowers and delivers charming results
Over three decades, the Studio Ghibli brand of animated storytelling has become a worldwide phenomenon through beloved classics My Neighbour Totoro, Spirited Away and the recent Ponyo. Although not directed by the studio’s co-founder Hayao Miyazaki, their latest effort, Arrietty, belongs firmly in the higher echelons of the studio’s output.
Fourteen-year-old Arrietty (voiced by Mirai Shida) and the tiny Clock family live under the floorboards of a suburban home, where they quietly go about their business, exploring and borrowing from the human world above them, and dodging the cats and birds that might see them as prey. Sho (Ryûnosuke Kamiki), a young boy bedridden by illness, arrives to live in the house and quickly forms a bond with Arrietty, but their connection is put to the test when the Clock family face discovery.
The inspiration for Arrietty will be familiar to many in the West as Mary Barton’s children’s classic The Borrowers, updated by first-time director Hiromasa Yonebayashi to 21st-century Tokyo. Ghibli’s previous attempt to adapt a British classic, Diana Wynne Jones’ Howl’s Moving Castle, felt somewhat culturally compromised to fit in with the studio’s style, but after entertaining the dream of filming Barton’s story for some 40 years, producer Miyazaki makes sure that Yonebayashi delivers a much more faithful job here.
Unlike the best of Ghibi’s work, Arrietty may not have the ageless, universal scope of the studio’s earliest works, but the result is a beautifully realised small-scale drama that can make the theft of a humble sugar-cube into a visually spectacular adventure. And as often is the case with Ghibli films, it’s a haunting score, this time by composer Cécile Corbel, which sticks in the mind like a warmest of childhood memories.
Selected release from Fri 29 Jul.