Arrietty (The Borrowers – Arrietty), Karigurashii no Arrietti, dir. Hiromasa Yonebayashi, script Hayao Miyazaki, Studio Ghibli, Japan 2010, 94 mins.
Arrietty juggling woodlouseThis is the latest movie from Japanese animation studio Studio Ghibli. It is an adaptation of Mary Norton’s “The Borrowers”, with the location changed from 1950’s England to 2010 Japan. The Borrowers, who are tiny humans, with no magical powers, live under the floorboards and exist by “borrowing” small objects and supplies that won’t be missed. An invalid boy, Sho, sees them and sets off a train of events, including a developing friendship between Sho and the tiny Arrietty, and the other humans becoming aware of the presence of the Borrowers, a disaster that could force the Borrowers to flee their home.

The story starts slowly, but becomes exciting and filled with dramatic tension. Children will enjoy many sequences, such as the danger-filled forays into the human-sized rooms, and Arrietty’s encounters with bugs nearly as big as herself, and her perilous forays into the great outdoors.  Outside, she seems in constant danger of being attacked by crows or the cat. Arrietty makes a brave and resourceful heroine, though her reckless behaviour could be the Borrowers’ undoing. Clearly her developing friendship with Sho is not going to end well.

Adults meanwhile can enjoy the animation, which is filled with bright colour, and pays attention to such things as the effect of surface tension in water at a small scale. Much is made of the contrast in size between the Borrowers and human artefacts.

To compare this with other Studio Ghibli movies, it’s a further return to form after the disappointing Tales from Earthsea (Gedo Senki ) of 2006. It’s less epic and more of a children’s movie than some of the earlier output, e.g. the rather violent and bloody Princess Mononoke, or the early Nausicaa.
Unusually, there are two English-language dubs, one British English, the other American English, as well as a Japanese language/ English subtitled version. The British English version, which I heard, is a very well-acted dub and entirely satisfactory.

(Those unfamiliar with the Japanese animation scene may assume that choosing an English dub is a no-brainer, and wonder why there is an ongoing sub v. dub dispute. The fact is, that many enthusiasts prefer the more authentic experience of hearing the original Japanese sound-track, and not entirely without reason. There are technical problems in making a translation that is accurate and also fits the previously animated mouth movements on-screen. English dubs, particularly those made cheaply for direct-to-video release with un-rehearsed actors, have acquired a deservedly bad reputation: hearing a much liked anime first with the original sound, and then in a poor dub, will put most enthusiasts off dubs for life. Also, it can be jarring to hear all the characters of an anime obviously set in Japan all talking with American accents.)