2010, colour, 1.85:1, 94 mins
Directed by Yonebayashi Hiromasa (米林宏昌)
By Derek Elley
Fri, 01 July 2011, 13:58 PM (HKT)
Anime version of British kids' classic The Borrowers successfully blends charm and cultural fusion. Theatrical and ancillary potential beyond Asia.
Tokyo prefecture, Japan, the present day. To rest prior to a heart operation, 12-year-old Sho goes to stay at the rambling old country house of his great-aunt Maki Sadako. Arriving, Sho catches sight of tiny, 14-year-old Arrietty, one of the family of "little people" who secretly live under the floorboards of the house and exist on things "borrowed" from the humans upstairs. Arrietty lives with her strong-and-silent father Pod and excitable mother Homily. Pod decides it is time to take Arrietty with him on one of his night "borrowing" expeditions, and the two set off up into the house in search of a sugar cube and tissues. The expedition seems to go well, but at the last moment Arrietty is spotted by the half-asleep Sho and she drops the sugar cube. The next day Sho leaves the cube out for Arrietty and the lonely boy — who rarely sees his divorced parents — tries to befriend her. Arrietty comes to trust him, but her father is adamant that, for the survival of their kind, they should never be seen by human beings. He decides it is time for the family to move on, and is helped by the appearance of another "little person", bow-wielding hunter boy Spiller. Meanwhile, Sadako's inquisitive maid, Haru, suspects that something strange is going on.
In retrospect it's surprising it has taken so long for an animated version to be made of the British children's classic The Borrowers. The late Mary NORTON's 1952 novel has had several live-action adaptations — including a fine 1992 BBC TV series and a 1997 feature film that fused an Anglo-American cast led by John Goodman with splashy visual effects and a concocted story. For a story about "little people" who secretly live under the floorboards of an old house inhabited by human beings, animation is the perfect medium to fuse the two worlds naturally without distracting effects, and that's the greatest accomplishment of this version by Studio Ghibli, which under animator MIYAZAKI Hayao 宮崎駿 has an illustrious track record in fare that works with both children and adults (Princess Mononoke もののけ姫 (1997), Spirited Away 千と千尋の神隠し (2001), Ponyo on a Cliff 崖の上のポニョ (2008)).
Written but not directed by Miyazaki, and "inspired by" rather than "based on" Norton's book, Arrietty 借りぐらしのアリエッティ (2010) moves the action to the present day and a leafy area outside Tokyo. But from the country-house setting to the period-looking artifacts, the film cleverly mixes in European elements (including French-Bretonne musician Cécile CORBEL's Celtic-sounding score) to give an almost timeless and place-less feel.
In its UK-dubbed version — this is the first Ghibli production to get separate British and American voice-casts for English-speaking markets — the movie has a strong British flavour that chimes well with Norton's original novel, even though the plot has been substantially modified and the characters adopt semi-Japanese manners. This is largely due to the generally high quality of the English voice-cast — including 17-year-old Saoirse Ronan (Atonement, Hanna) and veterans Geraldine McEwan and Phyllida Law — and helps compensate for the loss of the softer, more magical feel of the Japanese original, whose voice-cast was led by well-known child actress SHIDA Mirai 志田未来, now 18.
Making his debut as a feature-length director after 15 years at Ghibli, YONEBAYASHI Hiromasa 米林宏昌 brings a distinct signature to the film that's a tad harder than traditional Miyazaki, mixing charm and innocence (plant and insect life, water and weather) with some genuinely tense moments (a grumpy cat, a ferocious crow). Though the film dips midway with its lack of a really rich plot, Yonebayashi's skill at creating long dramatic arcs can be best seen in the first half-hour, especially Arrietty and her father's first expedition together through the house's nooks and crannies at night — almost a mini-feature in its own right.
Ghibli's tendency to incorporate environmental messages into its productions seems a little forced in the end section — with talk about the "little people" being a threatened species and how humans should co-exist with them — but doesn't get in the way too much. Animation is refreshingly traditional, with detailed, watercolour-like backgrounds and simple 2-D foreground characters, not overloading the viewer with visual information.
On Japanese release the movie was known under the English title The Borrower Arrietty, to link it with the novel and its basic theme. After slowly rolling out internationally since late last year, the film is released in the UK on 29 Jul 2011 and in the US on 17 Feb 2012. As part of Ghibli's "no cuts" policy, all re-voiced versions are identical.
ContactSales: Wild Bunch, Paris (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Theatrical release: Japan, 17 Jul 2010.
Presented by Studio Ghibli (JP), Nippon Television Network (JP), Dentsu (JP), Hakuhodo DY Media Partners (JP), Walt Disney Japan (JP), Mitsubishi (JP), Toho (JP). Produced by Studio Ghibli (JP). Executive producer: Hoshino Koji. Producer: Suzuki Toshio.
Script: Miyazaki Hayao, Niwa Keiko. Novel: Mary Norton (The Borrowers, 1952). Photography: Okui Atsushi. Editing: Matsubara Rie. Music: Cécile Corbel. Theme song: Cécile Corbel. Art direction: Takeshige Yoji, Yoshida Noboru. Sound: Kasamatsu Koji. Animation supervision: Kagawa Megumi, Yamashita Akihiko. Colour design: Mori Naomi. Digital imaging: Okui Atsushi.
Voices: Shida Mirai (Arrietty), Kamiki Ryunosuke (Sho), Otake Shinobu (Homily, Arrietty's mother), Takeshita Keiko (Maki Sadako, Sho's great-aunt), Miura Tomokazu (Pod, Arrietty's father), Kiki Kirin (Haru, Sadako's maid), Fujiwara Tatsuya (Spiller, the boy archer).
Voices: Saoirse Ronan (Arrietty), Tom Holland (Sho), Olivia Colman (Homily, Arrietty's mother), Phyllida Law (Maki Sadako, Sho's great-aunt), Mark Strong (Pod, Arrietty's father), Geraldine McEwan (Haru, Sadako's maid), Luke Allen-Gale (Spiller, the boy archer).
Voices: Bridgit Mendler (Arrietty), David Henrie (Sho), Amy Poehler (Homily, Arrietty's mother), Carol Burnett (Maki Sadako, Sho's great-aunt), Will Arnett (Pod, Arrietty's father), Tress MacNeille (Haru, Sadako's maid), Matt Levin (Spiller, the boy archer).