Thursday, February 23, 2012


In a world of rapid-fire CGI quips from Hollywood, it’s refreshing to disappear into the world of a hand-drawn Studio Ghibli film from Japan. It’s a calm, patient oasis in the middle of a hectic modern world. Their newest film to be brought by Disney to our shores is The Secret World of Arrietty, a version of Mary Norton’s book The Borrowers adapted by Ghibli’s rightly beloved co-creator Hayao Miyazaki. The story follows a family of toy-sized people who live under the floorboards and in the walls of an old house in the countryside, sneaking into rooms at night to borrow only what they need: a cube of sugar, a tissue, a pin. As the movie begins, a sickly young boy shows up to live with his aunt and get some rest in advance of a risky surgery that is necessary to save his life. He thinks he spots these fabled little people; the thought delights him. The little family, daughter Arrietty, her steady father and excitable mother, think they’ve been spotted too; the thought terrifies them. It’s a movie about survival, but only in the quietest, most melancholic sense. It’s a movie about learning to be kind to your neighbors, to take chances in learning to understand one another. It’s sweet and simple, but with a lovely attention to emotional – and, in true Ghibli fashion, visual – detail. Animator and first-time director Hiromasa Yonebayashi creates a world of new perspectives, following the borrowers’ point of view, which shows our world from a much lower angle, then switching to the boy’s view, making the common world uncommon. Ultimately, the film doesn’t have the majesty of Miyazaki’s own masterworks, but its still moving in a modest way. Like all of the great Studio Ghilbi films, it traces an invisible line between reality and fantasy, between nature and magic, with nimble beauty and heartfelt skill.

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