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The Secret World of Arrietty (Kari-gurashi no Arrietty)

The Secret World of Arrietty

It's not easy being miniscule, doncha know

dir: Hiromasa Yonebayashi

The wait in between new Studio Ghibli releases is too long, way too long. Being a man with a level of patience a saint would envy, I still find this particular wait too painful, but then, only a few new animated films are truly worth waiting for.

One of the most awesome things about being a movie-obsessed lunatic who also, by the grace of God, Allah and Satan, has been blessed enough to become a father, is having a new person to inflict my obsession upon.

Scratch that, reverse it, play it again. What I meant to say is that it’s tremendous, a tremendous thing to have a daughter to watch flicks with. And, with Studio Ghibli, it’s a tremendous thing having animated movies to watch with my kid in a cinema that are this nice, and don’t make me want to gouge out my own eyes and eardrums.

Sure, Pixar this and that, but surely we all know that the vast majority of stuff made with an eye towards the kid market are visual abominations and a stain upon our collective soul as a species. Most of these visual and auditory atrocities are the artistic equivalent of red cordial, whose only purpose is to overstimulate the kids until they become so het up and ADHDed that, upon leaving the cinema, a parent or guardian has no choice but to buy some merchandise to shut them up, calm them down and cork their cry hole.

And yet, on the other hand, it almost seems like a film like this, or Spirited Away, or Howl’s Moving Castle, are so patiently constructed to be the antidote to Those Other movies, that it’s a surprise that any kids like them at all, and that includes Japanese kids.

Especially Japanese kids. They must be different from the other ones. Hey, wait a second, I’m not getting all revenge-for-Nanking-and-Pearl-Harbour or racist or anything, if anything, they’re better than everyone else’s kids.

All that rigmarole and foofaraw being said, after we walked out of the cinema, my daughter declared, “Arrietty is the best movie I’ve ever seen.”

So, make of that declaration from a five-year-old girl what you will. It’s the best movie she’s ever seen.

Of course, I should have pointed out that she says that after watching every new movie at the cinema. It’s part of the joy of watching stuff with her.

Arrietty, like a lot of the Studio Ghibli stuff that comes out, is actually based on something decidedly non-Japanese, being Mary Norton’s series of books about The Borrowers, a cute little family of cute little people, like, tiny people, who borrow stuff from us oblivious bigger people.

Arrietty Clock (voiced by Saoirse Ronan) is the daughter of a family living under the floorboards of a big house where survival is dependant on non-discovery. They don’t know if there are any other of their kind still around, so for all they know they’re the last of their kind.

That’s a sad fate for any species. Arrietty’s father Pod, (voiced by Mark Strong), is a stern, taciturn man who dresses up for his excursions into the vast spaces and dangerous architecture of the house, like he’s going to be climbing Everest and spelunking in the Carlsbad Caverns. Arrietty’s just reached the age where her father thinks she’s old enough to ‘borrow’ along side him. Their survival is entirely dependant on these excursions, so it’s tackled with the seriousness of one of the action set pieces from a Mission Impossible film.

As in every single flick from Hayao Miyazaki’s studio (although he didn’t direct this one), this lead female character of Arrietty is resolute, hard-working, adoring of her parents and a hero in every way that plenty of other female characters in kid’s fare are not. She’s a great character especially when she has her sensible ponytail in place.

Their one biggest rule of existence is to never be seen by humans, but the arrival at the house of a young boy called Sho presents new problems, at least as far as the Borrower parents are concerned. Children are more curious, more adventurous, and are more likely to search out the nooks and crannies that the Clock family depend upon.

They don’t really need to worry about Sho, though, because he’s so unwell that he doesn’t represent that much of a problem. When you’re that size, though, about 10 cm tall, virtually everything from cats to housekeepers are a danger.

Eventually, the film becomes a story about the friendship between Arrietty and Sho, and that’s about it. Sure, the housekeeper tries to catch them or unleash pest exterminators upon them, but it would be disingenuous to say the flick even has a plot. If it has themes, there not more complicated than that friendship is nice, and that extinction is bad. The film, beautifully for me, has an element of sadness, arising mostly because of the Clock family’s impression that they’re going to have to abandon their home to survive, but also because of Sho’s acceptance of his own mortality, which he fights to help Arrietty out.

This film isn’t complicated unless you want it to be, so it unfurls in a mostly serene, aesthetically sublime way (par for their course, of course), and it doesn’t contain any content anyone could really take exception to, insofar as it relates to the safest of kid viewing. But that doesn’t mean it’s completely anodyne or bland experience, far from it. These flicks for me are such a supremely transcendent experience that I’m so primed to enjoy them that even the most transient of scenes practically brings me to tears at the drop of a wasabi-infused cracker.

And plenty of scenes had that effect on me here. All the same, I happily admit that my daughter’s perceptions regarding the flick probably carry more weight than mine, and she seemed entranced the whole way through.

It almost feels like these flicks are made by people who have more respect for kids, and kids’ sensibilities, and it really stands out in comparison to the other movie products pumped out merely to justify the merchandising attached to them.
Arrietty is a beautiful, easygoing experience, with little at stake, without trying to push anything relentlessly at our eyeballs, with a lovely main character that we would have no problem with our daughters emulating, for once.

7 times I tried arguing that I was only ‘borrowing’ stuff in front of a judge, who didn’t buy it out of 10

“Human beings are dangerous. If we're seen, we have to leave. My parents said so.” – it’s true, we suck – The Secret World of Arrietty