The Secret World of Arrietty (scripted by veteran animator Hayao Miyazaki and directed by first-timer Hiromasa Yonebayashi) once again proves that Japan’s Studio Ghibli has mastered the delicate art of weaving tales for children without alienating us grown-up kids.
The very best Ghibli films chronicle a character’s journey to/through an unfamiliar land. In Spirited Away, Chihiro finds herself trapped in an enchanted bathhouse for wandering spirits. In Princess Mononoke, Ashitaka must mediate between two strange worlds: the industrial Iron Town and the supernatural forest of the old gods. In Ponyo, the sheltered daughter of the sea goddess marvels at everyday wonders we human beings take for granted (like her first taste of ham).
Two such journeys drive the action in Arrietty: a boy suffering from a heart condition leaves his chaotic city life for some peace and quiet in the country, where his encounters with the “little people behind the walls” change how he views his mortality; and a young Borrower takes her first steps into the world of humans—which is, from her vantage point, “So big.”
It is this sense of discovery that makes Studio Ghibli’s films so soothingly nostalgic; they evoke the exhilaration of experiencing new and wonderful things—capturing the magic of childhood without “talking down” to the viewer. For this reason, Arrietty ranks with Princess Mononoke and Spirited Away as among the very best the dependable company has to offer.
[Originally written February 18, 2012.]