Arrietty: genius borrows

Arrietty, an adaptation of Mary Norton’s much-loved children’s book The Borrowers produced by peerless Japanese animation outfit Studio Ghibli, is properly delightful and pretty much compulsory if you’re looking for wholesome, non-brainrotting fare to entertain your kids with this Summer. The book, which is concerned with the struggle for survival and liberty of a family of micro-folk who live unobtrusively in the margins of a middle-class domestic set-up, has been turned into both a TV series and a movie before, but however competent the special effects one could never quite suspend one’s disbelief when confronted with optically or digitally scaled down actors on screen. That’s not a problem here: with their typical artistry and attention to the finest of details Ghibli create a succession of beautiful and immersive environments and let the drama play out at a steady pace and with a deft touch that skilfully avoids the many opportunities for cuteness and whimsy that present themselves. I didn’t go into this with overly high expectations, as in my experience the Ghibli films not directed by Hayao Mayazaki or Isao Takahata tend to be slightly pedestrian (Arrietty was overseen by first time director Hiromasa Yonebayashi), but this is a pearl, with some amazingly tense sequences (the bit where Arrietty and her father purloin a sugar lump in a darkened kitchen bears comparison with the heist sequence in Jules Dassin’s Rififi) and shocks (quite a few involving the sudden appearance of birds, cats and insects) and subtle comedy. If for no other reason it’s worth watching for the care and precision with which the animators have represented the warped physics one might encounter if one were only a few inches high: the tiny teapot that dispenses tea a drop at a time, the effort required to open a simple window latch, the hugeness of a standard human living room. A brilliant film, and one that had me more involved in its world than anything I’ve yet seen presented in 3D.

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