Say hello to my little friend

ARRIETTY is the latest film from Studio Ghibli, and it’s a good one — I haven’t seen TALES FROM EARTHSEA yet but found HOWL’S MOVING CASTLE and PONYO ON THE CLIFF BY THE SEA excellent yet not as excellent as I’ve been used to from Miyazaki. Here, Hayao M provides script and producing services, and as with HOWL’S the source is a British children’s classic, The Borrowers. Borrowing the idea but not the exact story, Miyazaki and his director Hiromasi Yonibayashi serve up a typically gentle, beautiful world — cel animation proves to be an ideal medium to evoke the separate-but-overlapping worlds of the jumbo humans and the micro-folks, with terrifically expressive sound design eloquently creating the particular perspectives of the differently-scaled characters.

There’s also tactile, sensory detail to the use of objects which makes you truly feel the weight of a pin wielded like a rapier, and four wads of double-sided sticky tape used as climbing gear (folded around the hands and feet) which have convincing heft and stiffness. Water droplets the size of basketballs are carried to and fro, and Arrietty the classic Miyazaki early teenage heroine can dry off after a soaking just by brushing a few snow-globe-sized water domes from her dress.

True, one dialogue scene does foreground a rather obvious eco-message, and the song is arguably overused (when you get to the end of a Miyazaki movie, always say “This’ll be the song, then.”) but the open ending is a brave touch, and along the way there’s excitement, humour, grace and charm, and the most sustained sequence of crow-bashing since ANTICHRIST.

11 Responses to “Say hello to my little friend”

  1. i found tales from earthsea almost unwatchable–and this is coming from a huge miyazaki (and even leGuin) fan!

    if you still haven’t seen mononoke or spirited away, i think those represent ghibli’s peak so far.

  2. Don’t expect too much from Tales From Earthsea. (Apart from the obvious Oedipal motifs, obviously.)

  3. I quite like LeGuin, and would love to see Michael Powell’s short adaptation.

    I love Mononoke and Spirited Away, but my heart belongs to the first three I saw, Totorro, Porco Rosso and Kiki. Saw them with no subs and no dubs, with my friend Kiyo providing intermittent benshi translation, and still was blown away.

  4. I have a good deal of affection for some of the non-Miyazaki Ghibli films as well, specifically Yoshifumi Kondô’s Whisper of the Heart (scripted adaptation by Miyazaki), Isao Takahata’s Only Yesterday, and Tomomi Mochizuki’s Ocean Waves. In some ways I find those films even more moving than Miyazaki’s masterpieces, since they pull off what seems to be either an impossible challenge or a fool’s errand–applying the Ghibli house style to utterly mundane subject matter from “ordinary life.” One would think that the resources of animation would be wasted in such films, and that they’d work equally well in live action (aside perhaps from the fantasy scenes in Whisper), and yet the opposite is the case, and the Ghibli magic comes through and transcends the material.

  5. You’re a man after my own heart. I think Totorro, Porco Rosso, and Kiki are my favorites too, although I also have a soft spot for Castle in the Sky and Spirited Away.

    Le Guin has disavowed the Studio Ghibli Earthsea movie. On the other hand, I had a very nice time imagining the product of a Miyazaki/Moebius collaboration when I read the other day that they were fans of each others’ work and had discussed working together at one point. Perhaps Moebius was an influence on Nausicaa?

  6. I agree about Whisper of the Heart and Only Yesterday (haven’t yet seen Ocean Waves). Whisper of the Heart is one of the loveliest, most evocative depictions of the sprawling Tokyo suburbs I’ve ever seen (I lived there in 1979-80, and the film gave me acute nostalgia pangs) and a lovely female-coming-of-age tale which manages to be both romantic and realistic. Only Yesterday has beautiful flashbacks to the central character’s schooldays, including some dealing with her first periods. Here’s a short piece I wrote last year about female characters in anime, if anyone’s interested: http://www.guardian.co.uk/film/2010/mar/25/japanese-anime-women

  7. I may be a rare bird, but having seen Miyazaki’s name-recognition pieces (Spirited Away, Howl’s Moving Castle) and some of his most endearing classics (Cat Returns, Kiki), I find Ponyo to be my favorite of his… tied for the title with his other most audacious film, Princess Mononoke. Ponyo’s use of nature and spirit motifs to bring a sense of the epic to an intimate love story, and its use of traditional brush-painting and composition to supplement Ghibli’s animation — it really was a brilliant cinema experience.

    I’ll see Arrietty if I can. Haven’t heard anything about it until now.

  8. I like the whole Ghibli output, really, and I like the fact that different people have different favourites.

    Of course Grave of the Fireflies is a devastating masterpiece too. Again, animation isn’t used for obvious cartoon or fantasy effects, but for poetically reimagining the world.

    Moebius certainly influenced Miyazaki, and Otomo too. Moebius in turn was, I believe, influenced by Osamu Tezuka, so it’s a full circle of Franco-Japanese influence.

  9. And now I’ve discovered a conversation between Miyazaki and Moebius in which Miyazaki acknowledges, “I directed Nausicaä under Moebius’ influence.”

    http://www.nausicaa.net/miyazaki/interviews/miyazaki_moebious.html

  10. A lovely stream of comments above. Even though tthe title of this post came from the most dubious of sources (I’m also an admirer of Miyazaki’s works).

  11. Yeah, start with Scarface, end with Antichrist, and in between we can have some quality!

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