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18.06.2015
For over two decades, the enchanting traditionally animated features of Hayao Miyazaki and Isao Takahata’s Studio Ghibli have been awing audiences at home in Japan, and increasingly around the world. The directorial debut of Ghibli animator Hiromasa Yonebayashi, Arrietty was penned by Miyazaki and Keiko Niwa from Mary Norton’s 1952 classic The Borrowers, which has been adapted into live action movies many times in the past few decades. The film centers on Arrietty (voice by Bridgit Mendler), a small but spunky 14-year-old “Borrower” who lives with her parents (Will Arnett, Amy Poehler) under the floorboards of a suburban home, unbeknownst to the home’s owner and housekeeper (Carol Burnett). Rather than a straight adaptation, the Studio Ghibli team opted to update Mary Norton’s novel to take place in modern-day Japan, and imbue it with the studio’s trademark finesse for conveying emotional relationships, human quirks and the inherent magic of the natural world. As director Yonebayashi divulged in an interview with film journalist Rob Carnevale last year, Miyazaki was the mastermind behind the project, and had actually wanted to adapt the book some 40 years ago.
In fact, Yonebayashi is the youngest ever director of a Ghibli feature, and the first animator to be moved up into the role. For North American version director Rydstrom, the task of properly translating a foreign language film is still a surprisingly intricate task, despite his previous experience on Earthsea.
The director is very appreciative of the entire adaptation team, which included writer Karey Kirkpatrick, whose job it was to take the flat, literal translation and breathe and characterization into it. The Ghibli films can be particularly tricky because of the vast differences in the language.
In their turn, the unimpeachable voice cast were similarly challenged by the need to match mouth movements with mathematical precision while still sounding natural.
The careful editing allowed some flexibility with the voice performances, Rydstrom notes, insisting that when it becomes a choice between getting the right feeling or hitting the synch, the performance wins out every time.
One of the “cheats” Kirkpatrick used, as Rydstrom reveals, were to add in or extend shots where the speaking character is off camera or has their back turned. Contributing much to the efficacy of the translation is the incredible voice cast that Disney has assembled. Fans of Japanese animated films and series are always curious (and at times annoyed) about what changes will be made to “Americanize” the characters and stories they have been so eagerly waiting to see. After going back to read the books in preparation for the project, Rydstrom says he was struck by how well the original film captured the feeling of the stories.
The global scale of Arrietty’s influences extend even into the music, with a score from French composer Cecile Corbel (who also wrote and recorded the lovely theme, “Arrietty’s Song,” in Japanese, English, Italian, French and German). This project could truly be considered a metaphor for the growing interconnectivity of the animation industry, and the world in general.


Touching moments like these are just a small part of what is sure to make this animated take on Mary Norton’s tiny heroine into a very big star. In truth, the best kids movies are treated with as much seriousness and stylistic prowess as a live-action art flick for adults.
Thanks to its partnership with Disney, the works of this acclaimed studio are being brought to American viewers with faithful English-language theatrical releases with reliability and skill. Disney’s English-language version is directed by Disney’s Gary Rydstrom (Lifted, Hawaiian Vacation, Tales from Earthsea U.S. When a new human boy named Shawn (David Henrie) comes to live in the house, he spies Arrietty during her first “borrowing” foray, and their secret friendship risks putting her family in grave danger. The traditionally animated film has been widely praised for capturing the sense of scale of the world seen from the point of view of its tiny protagonist, and for the startling moments of humor and wonder derived from it. Miyazaki had said, ‘Let’s make a heart-rending story.’ Then, considering that younger members were assembled for this project, I wanted to capture a beautiful world that is full of vigor, just like the fresh sprouts springing to life,” the director explained. Miyazaki tapped the 38-year-old artist after admiring his work on the studio’s 2008 hit, Ponyo. The key was in finding ways to keep the new dialog natural and expressive within the confines of the original animation, and remaining true to the characters and the film—with the added challenge of balancing fealty to the Japanese adaptation as well as the English novels.
This was somewhat alleviated by the efforts of supervising sound editor Jonathan Null, who delicately manipulated cuts between syllables and takes to enhance the character performances as well as match movements. As Rydstrom notes, the characters’ distinct personalities are so evident in the animation that the actors were easily inspired by watching the film. Because Ghibli put such a priority on being true to the heart of the books, little of such tampering was required.
He also marveled at how “incredibly British” the books were, and how that quality survived through both iterations of the film in details like a beautiful Victorian doll house meant to lure the little people.
Japan’s Studio Ghibli, well-known to critics, continues its legacy of sophisticated anime with The Secret World of Arrietty.Based on Mary Norton’s famous children’s novel, The Borrowers, the film focuses on a family of very tiny, very human-like people. Disney’s latest import is The Secret World of Arrietty, which premiered in Japan in 2010 and has already grossed $126,368,084 worldwide. Yonebayashi strove to provide a fresh perspective and a richly detailed world for Arrietty to inhabit. OK.’” The team also took advantage of wide shots during long speeches, especially during scenes where Shawn (the human boy) is out in the large, open garden.


Amy Poehler’s frantic, excitable worry-wart mother plays hilariously against the almost supernaturally calm dad, Pod, voiced by Will Arnett.
Although even Rydstrom admits he is not quite sure where the decisive line lay—for example, Shawn’s name was changed from Sho, and his great aunt Jessica’s from Sadako, while the housekeeper Haru retains her Japanese name.
It is a shared appreciation for story telling and the magic of animation that brings such well-loved characters to life in new and exciting ways each year.
Kathleen Kennedy and Frank Marshall, who helped with American takes on Ponyo and Persepolis, also executive produced the new version.
Rydstrom believes that Bridgit Mendler—a relative novice in the voiceover arena—particularly shines as Arrietty. Unfortunately for Arrietty, fraternizing with the housemate Shawn, a human of terrifyingly regular height, renders her living situation short-lived.Despite its roots in American literature, Arrietty eschews its western ties and disappears into the eastern tradition of Studio Ghibli’s gorgeous, pastoral-focused animation. This is a film in awe of its environment.Better yet is the film’s maturity, its sincere and honest confrontation with dark themes, proof that a movie’s mass appeal does not rest with its targeted audience.
Few figures in animation are as poignant and as victimized as Shawn, the sickly human boy who befriends the eponymous borrower.
Characterized by a rare fatalism, Shawn accepts the prospect of death if surgery fails to correct his heart condition.
This separates Ghibli from other dumbed down, kid-friendly studios who avoid such pronounced pessimism.Despite plunging its audiences into a fantasy, Arrietty maintains enough humanism to reflect the nature of life, just as a proper fable should.
When they are discovered, they move away from the “bigger people” of the world in search of a better life.The film’s sound mixing reflects the movie’s technical skill and demands the audience’s attention. As the camera cuts between kitchen appliances, the audience hears her fear in the form of every noise that one associates with daytime kitchen use. The sounds echo frighteningly throughout the night, but only in her head.For all its professionalism, The Secret World of Arrietty, like the borrowers themselves, is a scaled down version of Studio Ghibli epics such as Spirited Away, Princess Mononoke, and Howl’s Moving Castle. It lacks the scope, the ambition, and the imagination of the studio’s bold earlier works, which defied logic and convention.
Arrietty is just all too familiar, barely above predictability.Nevertheless, Ghibli remains the Godzilla to our Pixar, making waves in our domestic animated film industry and doing it with class.



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