Tuesday, July 27, 2010

ANIMAGE-DON: A somewhat biased review of 'Karigurashi no Arrietty'



I went to see "Karigurashi no Arrietty," a new feature based on British novel "The Borrowers" and created by animation house Studio Ghibli Inc. that hit theaters nationwide on July 17. It is the directorial debut of animator Hiromasa Yonebayashi, 37. The project was originally conceived by Hayao Miyazaki, who also wrote the script.

The film tells the story of the love that develops between 14-year-old Arrietty, a tiny girl who lives underneath the floorboards of an old mansion, and a 12-year-old human boy named Sho, who moves into the house.

photo(c)2010 GNDHDDTW "Karigurashi no Arrietty"

To tell the truth, when I first saw the trailer a while ago, I had a bad feeling about this film. Arrietty looked energetic, but Sho seemed to wear a bland, inanimate expression, as if his soul had been sucked out.

I thought, "Hmm, I hope it won't be like 'Tales from Earthsea.'"

But I needn't have worried. The director intended to make Sho look "inanimate." The human boy has been suffering from a heart disease for a long time and is gripped by a sense of powerlessness.

At first, Sho is described in a way that makes the audience feel he is a cold automaton. But after he meets Arrietty, he gains the courage and joy to live.

The movie turned out to be just as cute a story as Arrietty, who is red-blooded and has an air of dignity. Thank goodness!

The hidden home under the floorboards where Arrietty lives is filled with plants and flowers, as well as miniature furniture of all sorts and sizes. It is a fantasy of European country style.

In contrast, the outside world of the humans is a place of adventure, where a cupboard and table loom imposingly on the floor like sheer cliffs. Gigantic monsters (crows and cats) also pounce upon the tiny people.

The brilliance of Arrietty, who flits around the outside world as free as a bird, is the best part of the film.

When she goes outside, Arrietty looks dignified with her long hair held up with a clothespin. And when she is at home, she looks sweet with her hair down.

Director Yonebayashi skillfully interweaves the changes in her appearance into the drama. It works best in the final scene. With the use of the clothespin (which I thought it was, but it might be a different size), as well as a "heart" as a symbol, the protagnists' love is expressed elaborately.

Their romance is reserved and simple, but gracious and straightforward, too. It is rich in suggestion, typical of Miyazaki's scripts.

But I got a kick out of the ending especially because it pays homage to Miyazaki's 1995 anime film, "Whisper of the Heart," which I love. Miyazaki wrote its script and drew the storyboard. Master animator Yoshifumi Kondo, notable for the "Anne of Green Gables" TV series, directed the anime. I found a similarity in the combination of Miyazaki writing the script and an animator directing.

The cat that lives in the house with Sho looks just like Moon, the cat that plays cupid in "Whisper." Near the end of "Arrietty," when she and her family are about to move out of the house at night, the cat leads Sho to--wait, I won't reveal all.

I never imagined that the introduction of "Whisper" and its well-known ending could be intertwined in such a way and be brought back to life in a new form after 15 years.

Objectively speaking, I wouldn't be surprised if the audience feels the new anime is weak in dramatic development and a little too bland. But for those who love "Whisper," it is irresistible. My impression was that the 94-minute story is presented in a humble way without being too ambitious.

According to the press kit, director Yonebayashi was motivated to join Ghibli when he saw "Whisper" because he "felt adolescence" in it. He dropped out of Kanazawa College of Art, the school that produced game designer Shigeru Miyamoto and animation director Mamoru Hosoda, in addition to painter Naohisa Inoue. I found this an interesting link because Inoue was in charge of background art for "Baron no Kureta Monogatari" (The story Baron gave me), a fantasy sequence within "Whisper."

Before writing this review, I watched the DVD of "Whisper" late one night. Actually, after viewing it once, I played it again from the beginning because I wanted to indulge myself (I ended up going to bed after 3 a.m.).

It brought back memories of when "Whisper" was released, when I was working at the company's Nagoya office. After finishing my shift for the evening paper, I raced to a movie theater next door to watch "Whisper" repeatedly for hours.

So, I humbly ask you to note that my impressions of "Arrietty" can hardly be described as unbiased.

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