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Arrietty (2010)
Director: Hiromasa Yonebayashi

review by Sarah Ash

Fourteen-year-old Arrietty Clock (Saoirse Ronan) is a Borrower; she lives with her father Pod (Mark Strong), and mother Homily (Olivia Colman), beneath the floorboards of an old house with a rambling garden belonging to elderly Sadako (Phyllida Law). The tiny people live by borrowing from the 'human beans' upstairs - but they have a rule that says if they are ever seen by one of the humans, they must move away. One day, a boy, Sho (Tom Holland) comes to stay with his aunt Sadako and her eccentric housekeeper Haru (Geraldine McEwen); he has a weak heart and is waiting for an important operation. Lonely Sho spots Arrietty - and though he tries to make friends, Arrietty is terrified at first of breaking the Borrowers' code and betraying her parents. But then curiosity gets the better of the young Borrower...

Housekeeper Haru grows increasingly suspicious of Sho's behaviour, especially when Sadako shows him the exquisite dolls' house filled with miniature items, telling him that it used to belong to his mother. Haru has been convinced for a long time that there are little people infesting the house and stealing things - and after spying on Sho, she has proof! When Sadako is out of the house, she picks up the phone to call in the pest controllers. Will the Borrowers get away in time? Even if they survive the destruction of their home beneath the floorboards, how will they make a new life in the bigger world outside? And how will Sho find the courage to face up to his imminent operation?

'Inspired by Mary Norton's The Borrowers' is printed below the title on the cover - and yet, even though director Hiromasa Yonebayashi and screenplay writer Hayao Miyazaki have relocated Norton's classic 1952 tale of little people to contemporary Tokyo, they've done much more, in my opinion, to capture the subtle magical atmosphere of the original than the more recent updated BBC TV adaptation. The detailed invention that the Studio Ghibli artists have put into devising and drawing the Borrowers' ingenious adaptations of items borrowed from the human beans is a constant delight and will fascinate younger and older viewers alike. And the rambling garden, where tiny Arrietty encounters all kind of insects - and must be on her guard against the house cat or a vicious crow - is so beautifully and evocatively painted that it brings back memories of reading the book as a child; it really is a green and magically perilous place. The insects are wonderfully drawn and animated and more than a little reminiscent of the Susuwatari (soot sprites) in My Neighbour Totoro and Spirited Away.

This Optimum release uses UK voice actors and this home-grown casting really helps to enhance the feeling of fidelity to Norton's original novels. Saoirse Ronan makes an appealing Arrietty, capturing much of the young girl's excitement at going out 'borrowing' with her father for the first time. Mark Strong and Olivia Colman are equally good as her parents; Mark Strong has just the right stoical tones for Pod, a Borrower who says only just what's necessary, nothing more.

Breton folk singer/ composer Cecile Corbel provides the attractive Celtic-flavoured soundtrack and songs; in a recent interview for French magazine Animeland (#163) she relates how she just happened - out of admiration for the work of Studio Ghibli - to have sent them some demo tracks at the time when they were looking for the 'right' sound-world for their new anime. Out of this spookily lucky piece of timing came the commission to compose the score for Arrietty.

With a small cast - and tiny characters - Arrietty is more a piece of chamber music than one of the larger symphonic works like Nausicaä from Studio Ghibli. But, exquisitely hand-drawn and enlightened by delightful touches of insight and humour, it's a little jewel that should appeal to viewers of all ages.
The copy reviewed here was an advance press release copy, with no extras and only the UK dub, so I'm unable to comment on the original voice actors or any of the additional and enlightening features that Studio Ghibli are usually so good at adding. The American dub - yet to be released - has a completely different cast.

Arrietty DVD

Arrietty blu-ray

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