Saturday, February 18, 2012

Review: The Secret World of Arrietty

The Secret World of Arrietty
By: Studio Ghibli
NA Distribution: Disney Studios
Screenplay by: Hayao Miyazaki
Directed by: Hiromasa Yonebayashi
Length: 94 Minutes

Arrietty and her mother
Studio Ghibli is a highly revered animation company that stands tall in the animation world. The incredible attention to detail and the amazing scripts are absolute masterpieces that are among some of the most well-crafted anime out there. The anime studio has received critical success with masterpieces like Porco Rosso, Grave of the Fireflies, Princess Mononoke, Ponyo, Kiki’s Delivery Service, Castle in the Sky, Howl’s Moving Castle, and my favorite anime movie of all time Spirited Away. Based on a British a novel by Mary Norton entitled “The Borrowers,” the Secret World of Arrietty is an enchanting experience. A major Ghibli film without Miyazaki at the helm succeeds in creating an amazing experience, which makes the mundane and everyday world magical.

Disney's poster
The story starts as Shawn is brought to a house in western Tokyo by his Aunt Jessica. As he walks to the house he sees a cat attack the bushes. As the cat leaves, he sees a small girl run through the bushes; the girl is a borrower named Arrietty. They are small people living at the bottom of the house, and they take small things from the human world that is not missed. She lives with her father Pod, a strong willed borrower who wanders the household for goods to live a regular life and her mother Homily, a borrower with a liking for luxury and tends to overreact. Arrietty is a fourteen-year-old borrower who is just starting to learn the ropes, and she travels with her father to get some sugar and tissue paper. She is then spotted by Shawn a second time, and he tries to talk to her, scaring her away. Through various experiences, she and Shawn develop a friendship together. Taking care of Shawn and the house is Hara, a person who is suspicious of the existence of little people and the closest the story has to a villain.

Look at the detail
Studio Ghibli films takes their audience to exciting new immersive worlds. The Secret World of Arrietty takes place in an old Japanese house, yet a simple house feels so magical and strange. As Arrietty traverses around the house, seemingly mundane things seem so expansive. A kitchen is something we move back and forth with no issues, with the borrowers, it is a test of skill and precision that requires ingenuity and inventive use of ordinary products. The level of detail and the consistent level of scale are amazing, from the large sugar cubes to the large drops when a cup of tea is shared between the family. Something so simple like moving parts of a kitchen creates a sense of fear for the audience because the sense of scale is so different from our own world. The incredible level of detail also shows in the scenes of nature. With extended cuts, focusing on the falling rain creates a sense of immersion that is unlike any traditional 2D film. The sense of detail, the cohesive scale of the world of Arriety is consistent and believable.

The film’s strong point is the soundtrack, which is one of the best soundtracks in quite some time. French composer Cecile Corbel, a huge Studio Ghibli fan, composed the music for The Secret World of Arrietty. The soundtrack is an eclectic mix of Celtic music and vocals, and it creates an almost ethereal feel to the movie. There is a strong sense of love from the soundtrack, and every single song fits each scene so perfectly. I have to say it; the soundtrack for the movie is incredible and is easily one of the best soundtracks you will hear in any movie this year, anime or otherwise. The soundtrack is a perfect complement to a wonderful movie.

The movie is a great film that explores a variety of themes and never gets preachy. Arrietty moves around her world and has a strong mistrust of humans due to the stories she is told. Yet, she challenges the assumptions of her parents, she rebels against them and she want to talk to Shawn. She learns the consequences of her actions, yet she also creates a friendship and expands her world. Shawn himself is in the care of his aunt because his parents are too busy to care for him. He has a rather nihilistic view of the world due to his impending death. Arrietty, who loves her life chides him for such a negative view of the world, and the friendship they share they start changing.

Arrietty and Shawn
As great as the film is, it falls short of the incredible potential that it could have had. My first issue is the pacing; I am used to this pacing as a fan of anime, but to a Westerner who is used to frenetic storytelling the slower pace of the film may not be so appealing. I believe that the slower pacing is great because it allows the audience to breathe and be immersed in the world of Arrietty. That leads to an issue that I have that is the closest thing to a complaining about this wonderful movie, which is that the film was too short. There could have been much more screen time to develop the relationship between Arrietty and Shawn. I could connect to the characters, but I felt that they could have moved the amazing dialog to the next level had there been more personal interaction between the two. As great as the movie was, it also ended on a whimper, not a bang. Movies like Spirited Away, Castle in the Sky, and Kiki’s Delivery Service ended with such a great feeling of satisfaction, this movie had a good ending but I felt that it could have been so much better.

The Secret World of Arriety is an incredible Studio Ghibli film and it wears the badge proudly. It is an uncompromising tale that explores the adventures of the borrowers as they try to live in our world. The sense of detail and the care taken to create the world is lovingly rendered in each frame of animation. This movie has one of the most wonderful soundtracks this year, it is a Celtic soundtrack that increases the immersion of the audience and it invites us to the wonderful and terrifying world of Arrietty. As amazing as the film is, the film has one mistake and that it is too short, and that additional screen time would have increased the immersion and fleshed out this amazing world. This film is a masterpiece, this film has to be seen and experienced in the movie theaters. Disney pushed this movie like crazy, and I hope it succeeds since it is an amazing experience that focuses on character and story without compromise.

Kris Zoleta started working in Anime Expo as a staffer in Manga Library. He worked in Staff Service in Anime Expo 2006 and became the manager of Manga Lounge from Anime Expo 2007-2010. He is currently serving on the Board of Directors for the Society for the Promotion of Japanese Animation, the 501(c)(6) non-profit behind Anime Expo and is one of the most recognized cosplay photographers in the West Coast.

My Movie ticket, it was well worth the price.

No comments: