Beneath the floorboards of a sprawling mansion in a magical, overgrown garden in the suburbs of Tokyo, tiny 14-year-old Arrietty (voice of Siaorse Ronan) lives with her equally tiny parents, Pod (Mark Strong) and Homily (Olivia Colman). The mansion is occupied by two old ladies, who are unaware of the existence of their miniature tenants. Arrietty and her family live by "borrowing". Everything they have, they borrow or make from the things they have borrowed, but only a little each time, so the ladies do not notice. Arrietty's parents have always warned her: "Never let humans see you." Once seen, little people always have to move on. But the adventurous Arrietty is soon discovered by Sho (Tom Holland), a 12-year-old boy who has come to live with his aunt prior to a heart operation. The two begin to confide in each other and, before long, a friendship begins to blossom...
Review by Louise Keller:
With animation epitomising the delicacy and beauty of Studio Ghibli's previous productions, this adaptation and reworking of Mary Norton's novel The Borrowers is a somewhat charming experience, albeit not as successful as Spirited Away or Howl's Moving Castle. First time director Hiromasa Yonebayashi, who worked as an animator on both earlier titles brings a sense of wonder to the world of the tiny folk who have made their home within that of the unsuspecting humans, but the bridge from English culture to one that is clearly Japanese influenced, never feels absolute. Additionally, I found the perspectives of the real world and that of its parallel miniature less than satisfying.
At the start, we are transported into the world of Arrietty (Saoirse Ronan), a pretty youngster with a cloud of chestnut hair, who hides among blades of grass and uses a leaf as an umbrella. It is an important moment in Arrietty's life: she is about to be taken by her father on her first 'borrowing' adventure. 'Borrowing' is how she and her family survive - taking incidental items such as a bay leaf, a sugar cube and a tissue from the family in whose house they shelter. The excursion to collect a cube of sugar from a sugar bowl on a table in the kitchen is not dissimilar to a mountain climbing expedition for the little folk; such is the effort involved.
Brought up to understand that the world is full of dangerous creatures - especially humans, Arrietty's perspectives change when she meets a mostly bed-ridden 12 year old boy called Sho (Tom Holland) who awaits a heart operation. The unexpected friendship that develops between the two of them has valuable dividends: Arrietty's horizons broaden and Sho gets a renewed lease of life.
Curiously, the film does not seem as though it is intended for children - the scene with the giant black crow that smashes into the window of the little boy's bedroom is disturbing and the scowling housekeeper, Haru (Geraldine McEwan) intent on calling the pest exterminators, is a nasty piece of work.
But there are some inventive ideas and the pastel water-colour backdrops are exquisite. The film is a giant step away from the 1998 live action version starring John Goodman and Jim Broadbent. I saw the English language version; it is also released in Japanese language with English subtitles.
First published in the Sun-Herald
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
A bit of a cultural trifle, Arrietty is based on the English book The Borrowers by Mary Norton, and the English language version retains most this 1950s English cultural setting - but not the physical setting, which has been moved to 2011 suburban Tokyo. Rather spacious suburban Tokyo, in fact, the mansion set in expansive grounds. Accoutrements of Japanese culture and life are evident, from the slippers worn in the house to some Japanese speech mannerisms. The end result is not so much a blend of the two cultures but a messy pudding.
Aside from these distractions, the animation is surprisingly crude, especially for a Studio Ghibli production), the dialogue awful and the characters wooden. Even the target market of 6 - 8 year old girls will find the pace dull, and accompanying adults will be underwhelmed.
The film has a reasonably high Japanese cute factor, but the overused music is not so much cute and gratingly sentimental. All the English charm has been sucked out of the story and replaced by less appealing replica in which the joys are few and far between.
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VOICES: English language version: Saoirse Ronan, Tom Holland, Olivia Colman, Phyllida Law, Luke Allen-Gale, Mark Strong, Geraldine McEwan; Japanese language version: Mirai Shida, Ryûnosuke Kamiki, Shinobu Ohtake, Keiko Takeshita, Tatsuya Fujiwara, Tomokazu Miura, Kirin Kiki
PRODUCER: Toshio Suzuki (English language version: Frank Marshall; UK version: Soledad Gatti-Pascual)
DIRECTOR: Hiromasa Yonebayashi
SCRIPT: Hayao Miyazaki, Keiko Niwa (novel The Borrowers by Mary Norton)
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Atsushi Okui
EDITOR: Rie Matsuhara
MUSIC: Cecile Corbel
RUNNING TIME: 94 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Madman
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: January 12, 2012