Having watched Arrietty at my local cinema and now having savoured the Blu-ray, I'm going to go out on a limb and proclaim that the wonderful Studio Ghibli stable has finally found a *potential* successor to Hayao Miyazaki. Arrietty is an absolutely wonderful film, and it is gobsmacking to think that this is a directorial debut for Hiromasa Yonebayashi - who has already been proclaimed the studio's "best young animator" by the 70 year old veteran (Miyazaki) himself.
I won't spoil the story for you other than to give you the film's basic premise: Arrietty is based on Mary Norton's classic book, The Borrowers, and it more or less sticks to the book's narrative. It tells the tale of 14 year old Arrietty, a 'Borrower', or 'little person', and her family. She lives with her mother and father under the floorboards of a house in Western Tokyo. As 'Borrowers', they sneak out at night to "borrow", or rather take food and other essentials from the house's human occupants, but only enough as to live on. One of the humans in the house, or "human beans" as the borrowers hilariously call them, is a boy named Sho, who is of a similar age to Arrietty and is staying at the house to convalesce prior to an operation. One day he spots Arrietty, which is the worst thing possible to happen to a Borrower, as being seen by human beans traditionally spells trouble for these little folk. However, Sho is not a typical brash screen kid, he's a kind hearted gentle soul and only wishes to befriend Arrietty. I will not delve further into the plot for fear of spoiling it for you, other than to say it is a simple tale and ask that you don't go looking for hidden metaphors or underlying subtext as you would with some other Ghibli films. Like Ponyo before it, this is an old fashioned simple tale of friendship and discovery. And herein lies its beauty. However, there are some subtle action scenes and plenty of humour, too. Most of all though, like the best Ghibli films, it oozes charm and warmth.
As regards the animation, well for me it is up there with the very best Ghibli films. Every single frame is so beautifully drawn that you'd want to hang each of them on your wall. The sense of scale is quite astonishing as these tiny people are offset against the background of the human bean world, containing (at least to them) enormous furniture and other everyday knick knacks. The sense of peril that things such as rats and insects pose to a Borrower is wonderfully translated to the viewer by the beautiful animation and its clever use of scale. It screams Hayao Miyazaki from every pore, and it is clear that, despite not being the director, the master had a HUGE influence on this production beyond his role of script writer. The characters all look like they're from a Miyazaki film and all have that unmistakable Ghibli charm. They're not just Ghibli characters on a superficial/visual level either, you *care* for these people. Which is more than I can say for the characters from Goro Miyazaki's Tales from Earthsea, for example. This is why I feel Yonebayashi could be the future of the studio. I like many of the non-Miyazaki/non-Takahata Ghibli films, in fact The Cat Returns is one of my favourite Ghibli titles, but this is the first time I've sat there and realised that a rookie Ghibli director has truly been mentored by Miyazaki... truly *absorbed* some magic from him. But for all of its feel of a Miyazaki film, it also feels new and fresh, which is Yonebayashi's own personality and stamp. Just the way it should be.
As much as I adore the Joe Hisaishi compositions of past Ghibli films, Cecile Corbell's Bretton/Gallic haunting melodies are a match made in heaven for the images on the screen. Although it is set in Tokyo, it still has the western feel that The Borrowers always had, so for me the Western 'vibe' of the music is extremely well suited. Besides, some of Corbell's score sounds subtly influenced by Japanese folk anyway.
As for the technical details regarding this 'Deluxe Collectors Edition', well it comes with both a Blu-ray and a DVD of the film. I have watched the Blu-ray from start to finish and it is a wonderful transfer. Not the slightest hint of noise reduction or edge enhancement. It is as beautiful as when I saw it on the local cinema, and the rich palate just leaps off the screen. There is no sign of shimmering lines, blocks or any other compression based artefacts. The sound is also well presented, and we have DTS HD audio for both the Japanese and English tracks (more on the English track below). As regards the DVD, well it's not such good news I'm afraid. The shimmery artefacting and blocky compression looked particularly bad. I don't remember seeing an Optimum Ghibli release look this bad on DVD since Spirited Away, which also suffered terrible and needless compression artefacts. Unlike the Optimum Spirited Away DVD, the colour on the Arrietty DVD is actually OK, but if you have access to a HD screen and Blu-ray player, I urge you to spend wisely and buy this collector's edition or the standard Blu-ray instead of the DVD.
As regards the aforementioned English track, and just as it was for the UK cinema release, it is totally unique to the British market. By this I mean it uses different actors to the Disney track that will be added for the American market. This is why we managed to get the film so much sooner than our friends across the pond, both as regards cinematic release and home video, and it is something I hope to see more of in future. While I myself prefer to watch in the native Japanese, I do not think it is fair that we get American actors thrust down our ears at every opportunity when it comes to the dubbing of anime, so it's nice to see some Brits get a share of the work for once. Also, as far as dubs go, the largely English voice cast suit Arrietty perfectly.
Extras/special features: Well, they're pretty much run of the mill for an Optimum Releasing Studio Ghibli title. We get the now standard alternate angle 'storyboard' track, which allows us to watch the entire film in storyboard mode, the original Japanese trailer, a couple of TV spots and interviews with the cast and production people. Although the interviews are far more extensive than normal and run to about an hour in length. Miyazaki is as charming and candid as he always is, as he discusses his decision to award the director's job to Yonebayashi. Worryingly, more hints are made as to the long term survival of our beloved studio and, once again, he seems to be encouraging fans to adopt the young Ghibli directors - after all, Miyazaki won't be around forever. Yonebayashi seems a little shy and awkward in his interview, but what he has to say about his work on the film is extremely interesting, and he also takes us through some conceptual artwork of his. We also get interviews with the English voice cast, which was quite interesting to me even though I'm a fan of anime in the native Japanese tongue. Finally, there's a video of Cécile Corbel & ensemble performing the wonderful 'Arrietty' theme song. I should also note that the included DVD only contains the alternative angle storyboard feature. Whether this is true or not for the standalone DVD, I do not know, but it is definitely the case for the deluxe Blu-ray/DVD combo discussed here. A handful of 'artcards' (postcards) featuring artwork from the film are also provided.
In summary, I have no qualms *whatsoever* in giving this wonderful anime 5 stars. It is a must see hand drawn classic amongst a sea of commercial guff and generic CGI animation. I urge you to buy it not only as the studio needs our support now more than ever, but also because it begs multiple viewings. A rental just wouldn't do it justice.