Awkward Anime Episode 11: The Secret World of Arrietty
Hayao Miyazaki turned 77 on January 5th, 2018. The number of masterpieces that he has created and produced has rightfully gained him worldwide popularity and accolades, but more importantly, respect.
2008. 40 years on from when he first expressed his desire to adapt the famous children’s fantasy novel The Borrowers by Mary Norton and do it justice on the big screen, the green-light was finally shown and so the writing and production began. Yet surprisingly, although having a major role in planning and writing the screenplay for the adaptation, Miyazaki willingly stepped aside to give key animator Hiromasa Yonebayashi the chance to shine with his Directorial debut. The youngest Director of a Ghibli film took his opportunity with The Secret World of Arrietty in what is, in my opinion, perfection in its simplest form.
“I wanted to capture a beautiful world that is full of vigour, just like the fresh sprouts springing to life.”
Ghibli has constantly shown the importance of creating an atmosphere that is engraved into the tone of the film from the very first shot, whether it is one of anxiousness, inevitable sadness, coming of age, or wonder. Yonebayashi certainly saw this animation as his chance to show his strengths in creating a vivid atmosphere and he did so in great detail. What was produced, without a doubt, exceeded my expectations when I first witnessed this film 1 year ago. Re-watching it for the 4th time does not waiver my opinion in the slightest. In fact, it only enhances my belief that this is a phenomenal piece of heartwarming artwork, which certainly expressed the Animator-turned-Director’s message:
“Animation is created for the children, therefore it is important to depict with care that the characters in the stories are living righteously”
The story is very simple. That’s exactly it. Somehow Ghibli manages to portray this fantasy adventure as a simple story, but in the most expansive and detailed way. It’s funny how looking on it, the plot is very threadbare and simple. Yet I never felt that way while I was watching. I was enthralled and engaged throughout. This is the true beauty of animation; where, if done right, it is possible to create density in simplicity. The Director stated that working as an Animator he was always dealing with short individual shots and understanding Hayao Miyazaki’s thought process improved his own thinking behind a narrative to the point where he would not look over any frame:
“Each small shot is complete with storytelling, visual and aural elements”
The one aspect of this 94 minute animated feature that gave me goosebumps throughout and really enhanced this story into a great adventure was the use of sound and music. The timing and usage of silence as we see Arrietty and her Father scatter across the walls of the house on her first “borrowing” emphasised Pod’s (The Father) sense of inevitable danger, with the visual representation of the dark chasm below filled with scurrying rats done well. Knowing when to add and reduce sound within a movie is a difficult factor to perfect. As Arrietty stops and gazes at this wonderfully bigger than life Kitchen, her senses are expressed to the point her shock and awe is shared with me as the viewer. We see the open wide shot of the kitchen, along with what seems to be loud yet muffled footsteps. This one scene is simply perfect. Amplifying the footsteps above in a hollowed way helps us as an audience not only understand the importance of what this tiny being is surrounded by but also feel her amazement. Adding that ambience to the atmosphere without screaming it out at you. Density in Simplicity.
Director Yonebayashi expressed his desire to take care of each individual shot and include the smallest details so that the visualisation from the eyes of the Borrowers is put across to the Audience. Small prickles around the leaves as Arrietty runs through the Garden, the bumps on a brick’s surface and the emphasis on tools used to help navigate and live life. In all their animated features this is one constant I notice. Focus on the little things that make up the inner workings of characters and story. Using double sided tape as a way to climb up a table. Ingenious.
“If you look at the background of Arrietty, you can see that the hand-drawn artwork is not inferior to computer generated at all.”
Once again the hand-drawn elements in a Ghibli film asserts itself as truly significant to adding to the overall atmosphere. As the characters moved through the backgrounds, they were walking in the field of art. It never fails to amaze me how bold colours give the more emotional scenes that extra kick, while the darkness in the inner workings of the home perfectly depict that sense of danger.
The one and only negative I have towards this film is that it simply ends too soon! I was expecting a few answers to questions that were raised, expecting a good-feel ending scene or at least an epilogue. What ended the animation was a very bittersweet moment, which definitely did wrap up a wonderfully told emotional relationship between the two main characters.
This is subtle done at its very best. Silence. Adventure. A simple story maximised to its very best. Perfection in its Simplest form.
“I was ecstatic even in animating water and schools of fish, which is an emotion that perhaps only an animator would comprehend”
Fun Fact! French singer
sent a promo album to the Studio as she was a huge fan for years. Producer Toshio Suzuki wanted a Celtic-inspired film score and within 10 days she received an email from Ghibli stating the Director’s admiration for Corbel’s voice and her playing of the harp. Corbel eventually was assigned to compose the whole score, recording songs and more with a small orchestra. The first time a non-Japanese composer had worked with the Studio!
Please share if you enjoyed this analysis and remember to eat those tiny trees!