Monday, August 29, 2011

Ghibli: Karigurashi no Arrietty (Arietty the Borrower) (2010)

Catching up on a few Japanese films we'd missed.  I hadn't heard anything about this - it came out just after our Japan trip last summer, and somehow none of our family or friends in Japan had been talking about it.

Which is odd, because we normally keep up on Ghibli.  Sometime I mean to write a series of posts about all their films - I've seen them all, and loved most of them.  Our opinions were kind of mixed about Ponyo, I guess, and worse than mixed about the couple before that, which may be why our breaths weren't particularly bated for this one.

The Japanese title is Karigurashi no Arrietty 借りぐらしのアリエッティ, which literally translated to "Arrietty the Borrower," although it looks like it's going to be released overseas as simply Arrietty.  Anyway, we were a good ten minutes into before I realized:  dude, this is The Borrowers.  Which I haven't read since I was, like, ten, and haven't thought about in just about as long.

So anything I say about it as it relates to the original (and to English-language film adaptations - I remember seeing one as a kid, evidently this one) is based on ancient memories, right?  But here goes nothing.  I remember the original as being pretty jokey about the Borrowers - like, aren't these quaint little folk?  This film doesn't do that.  It doesn't look down on them. 

So when the dad goes out borrowing he's not some odd little cod-Victorian pilferer - he's a stern paterfamilias braving ever-present dangers to go hunting for his family (the concept works even better in Japanese than in English, since the verbs for "to hunt" and "to borrow" are homophones).  He's kind of heroic, and so you can easily see why Arrietty looks up to him so much.  The father-daughter relationship is really at the heart of this film (and, come to think of it, at the heart of a lot of Ghibli films).

The human boy, meanwhile, comes off as a kind of Keatsian figure - we don't know if he actually writes poems, but his illness is handled with a kind of wan picturesqueness that makes his crush on Arrietty quite believable. It meshes perfectly with the lush romanticism of the setting, which makes a rainswept backyard feel like Eden and a cobwebby crawlspace feel like a Roman ruin. 

The depiction of nature in this film is one of its chief delights.  It makes for some nice gags, as we hear them referring to the lawn as a forest, but mostly what we get are views of the fairylike Borrowers in close communion with flowers, leaves of grass, raindrops:  I hadn't looked at grass with this much wonder since I was, well, since I was almost young enough to read The Borrowers.  Pay particular attention to the way the film treats water:  the jewellike texture of raindrops or dewdrops when seen close up, and the way the animators decide not to scale down the effects of surface tension, so that when Arrietty's mom pours a cup of tea it comes out as one big droplet.  Very striking.

Arrietty herself, of course, is another in a long line of strong Ghibli heroines;  I'm not sure, on one viewing, if I could say what if anything differentiates her from Nausicaa or San or Fio.  Which doesn't meant she's an ineffective center for the film:  she's just as winsome as the others.

It's on the kiddy side of Ghibli's output, to be sure, but it's one of their better ones.  And it's probably the best of their attempts so far at adapting a foreign story (if you don't count Spirited Away as an adaptation of Alice in Wonderland).

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