Most people are familiar with Hayoa Miyazaki’s work, specifically Spirited Away, which became the first foreign film to win Best Animated Feature at the Oscars, and went on to become the most successful Japanese film of all time. The film propelled Studio Ghibli into fame, and other films they did, such as Princess Mononoke, The Cat Returns, Whisper of the Heart, and My Neighbour Totoro, became popular in the mainstream public.
Now, Miyazaki’s protÃ©gÃ© Hiromasa Yonebayashi has directed his first movie. While Miyazaki’s films are always originals (as in never based on a book etc.), The Secret World of Arrietty is based on the much loved children’s classic, The Borrowers. Does Yonebayashi match his legendary mentor? No. Does he make a wonderful film? Yes!
The plot centres around Arrietty (Mirai Shida), a rebellious young girl living with her parents in the back garden of a house. A young boy named Sho (Ryunosuke Kamiki), who was born with a heart condition, is staying there with his Aunt Sadako (Keiko Takeshita). Arrietty is a four-inch-tall ‘borrower’ who goes into the house and steals small things like sugar cubes. Sho spots her and the two befriend each other, much to her parent’s dismay, who believe any human is a threat to their way of life. The intrusive maid, Haru (Kirin Kiki), is suspicious of the existence of the borrowers and only reinforces the point that all humans are dangerous. When Haru starts to come close to finding them, they realise they must avoid detection, or they may have to leave their beloved home they have lived in for years.
Hiromasa Yonebayashi was the youngest person to ever graduate from the Studio Ghibli Academy of Animation, and now the youngest ever director of a Studio Ghibli film. And, well, he has done a very good job. While it doesn’t quite reach the heights of Spirited Away or Howl’s Moving Castle, it’s still a fantastic film. The animation, it typical Ghibli fashion, is beautiful, with incredible colours used and wonderfully creative character designs. The voice acting is also fantastic with the actors really giving themselves to the role (I am of course talking about the original Japanese voices and not the English dub, which thankfully was not shown at my cinema, but the fact that it said the word ‘subtitled’ on the schedule apparently wasn’t enough because all the little kids were complaining that it was in Japanese, and the cinema was empty by the time the movie was over.)
In short, The Secret World of Arrietty is a brilliant film. The writing (written by the great Miyazaki himself), acting, animation, and scene of innocence is just fantastic. I’m looking forward to seeing what else Hiromasa Yonebayashi comes up with, and he is very, very good and with some experience could possibly even surpass Miyazaki. Anyone who liked Spirited Away is going to like this film, even though, while it’s inevitable, it’s unfair really to compare this to Spirited Away, as this is much less dark.