It’s a sad fact that one day, we will live in a world without Hayao Miyazaki actively making movies. We may already be living in a world where Miyazaki is no longer directing films. There has been speculation, based on his own words, that Ponyo (2008) may prove to be the last feature film for which he will have a directorial credit. We have been so lucky to live in world in which a master film-maker created at the top of his craft such films as My Neighbor Totoro (1988), Spirited Away (2001), Howl’s Moving Castle (2004) and so many others.
What we have in The Secret World of Arrietty is perhaps the next best thing to a film directed by Miyazaki. It’s a film written by Miyazaki and to some extent “planned” by him. I’m not sure if this includes storyboards or to what extent his hand remained in, but Arrietty does bear more of his mark than other films from Studio Ghibli. It is directed by Hiromasa Yonebayashi, who worked as an animator on a number of Miyazaki’s films, and I’d be hard pressed (or merely speculating) to suppose where the work started and stopped. The most important thing is that while Arrietty may not be entirely a Miyazaki film, it bears a great deal of the charm and beauty of his work. It’s a fine film.
Based on the novel, The Borrowers by Mary Norton, the story is about a little family of little people who live in a house in the Japanese countryside. They “borrow” what they need from the bigger humans, hiding their existence entirely from them. But when Sean, a boy with a heart condition, is brought to the house to convalesce, he discovers the teenage borrower Arrietty and tries to make friends with her. Ultimately, when the family realizes that they have been discovered, they have to leave and rebuild their home somewhere else, but the friendship between Sean and Arrietty brings about hopeful changes for both.
It’s a sweet film. Like Ponyo, it’s rated G (a rare enough thing these days in children’s film), with a strict limit to drama, danger, and violence. While there is no out-and-out magic at play here (a common Miyazaki theme), this family of little people are in a sense the magic of the world, a hidden, endangered, beautiful element sadly threatened increasingly by change. The family aren’t sure if they are or not the last of their species.
Arrietty is yet another of Miyazaki’s strong young female protagonists, spirited and innocent, breaking into the world in new ways.
Both my son Felix and daughter Clara liked it a lot, though Felix, typically was less enthusiastic after a while. I thought it was quite enjoyable myself.
We are lucky to live in a world in which Hayao Miyazaki is still creating cinema, and we can hope that he will continue to do so.
For a full, extensive archive of movie reviews by Ken, please see kennelco.com/film_diary