Studio Ghibli means: never being disappointed because the stories are almost always borrowed and already fabulous, or the film is aesthetically pleasing on its own.
Hayao Miyazaki‘s new film The Borrower Arrietty is all of that and like Ponyo, Spirited Away, Howls Moving Castle, Grave of the Fireflies, Kiki’s Delivery Service, The Cat Returns and My Neighbour Totoro (I know there’s more but these are my favourites) it joins the ranks in his champion archive of top quality 2d animation.
14-year-old Arrietty and the rest of the Clock family live in peaceful anonymity as they make their own home from items “borrowed” from the house’s human inhabitants. However, life changes for the Clocks when a human boy discovers Arrietty.
Director Hiromasa Yonebayashi adaptation of Borrowers is for the most part exactly like the original novel, the difference being that its set in a picturesque Japananese countryside rather than a picturesque England one. 14 year old heroine and title character Arrietty lives under the floorboards of an old house with her father, Pod, and mother, Homily. As far as they know it they are the only living Borrowers around, but that all dramatically changes when the youngest member is seen by Sho, a sickly but well-intentioned 12-year-old normal sized child recently living with his Great Aunt Sadako waiting to go in for heart surgery. Repeated events and close calls in Arrietty’s world cause the two lonely children to form a friendship however their relationship is discovered when the old suspicious housekeeper Haru who becomes near obsessed with capturing one of the little humans.
Miyazak is absent as the director this time round however the quality is prevalent and testimonial to his artistry legacy. Yonebayashi utilizes different styles of animation in order to immerse the audience into Arrietty’s world. Yonebayashi also uses disparate artistic styles to create a stark contrast between the human and borrower worlds. The human kitchen, as seen by the borrowers, is so exquisitely drawn that it looks computer generated (you know…like that one scene in Beauty and the Beast) . Arrietty’s own world is a palette of beauty, and the though they probably had much inspiration to draw from (Toy Story) the way in which the artists utilise human instruments to suit the Borrowers’ world is ingenious.
Arrietty is a tom boy yet graceful and spunky all at the same time. From her burst on to the screen you fall in love with the spry little girl, she carries a sense of nobility and maturity beyond her years (as is usually the case for a lot of Ghibli studio‘s numerous female leads).
However if we were to compare the film as a whole to that of its predecessors mentioned above it is fair to say that Yonebayashi’s début, thought beautiful and endearing is not yet on par with the Miyazaki’s productions which are often wrapped in complex well fleshed out characters, story and detail.
Unfortunately, while Yonebayashi’s direction is flawless, the story falls short. Throughout the film he dips and dives around the sub-context of humans and borrowers coexisting, and for a time we are led to believe that the beautiful dolls house, passed down the family to Sho, will become the Clock family’s home. This is not the case, and when the colours and intricacies of the film has sunk in, you’re perhaps left feeling a little disappointed with the plot. I know how the original story works out, ambiguously, but this didn’t and it could have done so brilliantly. Instead the unresolved ending and unsatisfactory comeuppance of the antagonist Haru (more irritating than harmful) will leave you wondering if there is more to come and hoping that if so, the sequel manages to get a better grasp of the self-contained world and the story unlike the one it let drift away with the end scene.