The FilmHiromasa Yonebayashi's promotion to the director's chair for the most recent Studio Ghibli release came about due to the lack of alternatives amongst the staff at the studio. Miyazaki openly wondered about whether his 36 year old choice was up to the task, but simply had to offer the role to someone else because of the Ghibli workload. Now this seems somewhat apocryphal given the critical reception that the director's debut has received, and in no way can Arrietty be described as a case of buggins turn. Those catching the film for the first time on this sumptuous release will get to see a work that sits very well within Ghibli traditions featuring as it does a young female heroine, ecological overtones and a willingness to be very adult with material aimed at children.
These familiar elements are supported by a story that has been adapted for cinema and telly more times than I can remember. Mary Norton's tale of The Borrowers can be seen as an allegory for leaving childhood with Arrietty's encounters with the foreboding "Human Beans" of the little people being not unlike the experience of a child entering the adult world.Here Arrietty is coming up to 14 and is taken on her first "borrowing" mission by her father. Whilst gathering provisions from the "human beans", she is glimpsed by Sho, the ailing young grandson of the house's owner. With the little people's existence revealed, Arrietty tries to put matters right but doesn't count on the bad intentions of some of the larger household.
The same joyfulness and decent intensity that accompanies other Ghibli heroines, marks Arrietty as an engaging focus for this familiar tale. Her youthful misadventure first brings peril to her family and is succeeded by her growing initiative that challenges adult ways and eventually rescues the people she initially puts at risk.Some wrinkles are introduced to this 60 year old story with more made of the position of Arrietty and her family as an endangered species. Old touches remain with the cat being a reference to Whisper of the Heart, but there is enough novelty and sureness of touch to save the film from being a safe re-tread of old glories.
Animated with the unusual levels of care Ghibli is known for and possessing a superb soundtrack, this is a very moving animation that tells an old story very richly. It's unfair to judge Yonebayashi against his mentors but this work compares very well with the very best of recent animations like The Girl Who Leapt Through Time and any of Makoto Shinkai's films.
Technical SpecsOffered on a just over half filled BD50, Arrietty is region B locked. The main feature is presented at the original aspect ratio of 1.85:1 and given a filesize of a relatively slight 22.2 GB. Having seen the film in the cinema, I can confirm that the very digital looking transfer contained on this disc is similar to what cinema audiences saw with very little grain visible.Black levels are excellent and detail in and out of light is terrific, edges betray no enhancement and this is what I would call an excellent transfer. One concern though is that this transfer has a frame-rate of 24 per second rather than the usual 23.98.
In terms of the soundtracks, Ghibli arranged for a British dub featuring the likes of Mark Strong and the formidable Olivia Colman and two options of both this and the original Japanese track are offered. All four options are lossless with the 5.1 master audio mixes seeming identical bar the dialogue. Coverage in the 5.1 mixes is pretty impressive with the score enveloping and effects carefully mixed around the channels. As nice as having a special British dub is, I preferred the Japanese language option as the performances of Tom Holland and Mark Strong were rather too dramatic for my taste. The English subtitles support the Japanese dialogue very well.
ExtrasThe majority of the extras on this disc relate to the British dub that I mentioned above with interviews with the five leading members of the voice cast. These are rather rough interviews with the questions being nearly inaudible at times during Olivia Colman's. Very few of the cast, Mark Strong excluded, have any knowledge of Ghibli so nearly all of the questions are rather dull ones about the mechanics of dubbing animated film.
Much more enjoyable, for me at least, were the longer interviews with Miyazaki and the director. Miyazaki confirms my facts above about the choice of director, before being extremely cautious about the film and keeping egos under check with pointing out the director's flaws. He is very interesting about the lowly status of animators and the battles they face in making a living in Japan.
The rather sweet director talks about Whisper of the Heart being his reason for joining the studio and his surprise at being asked to direct. He shows a real passion for the original book and its ideas, and appreciates Miyazaki's skills as well as his role as taskmaster.
The wonderful theme song is reprised by Cécile Corbel in a promotional video, TV spots and trailers are included and an option to compare the film to storyboards is offered as a picture in picture accompaniment to the film. All extras are standard definition.
SummaryOne of the best films of the last year gets a fine transfer with some interesting standard def extras.
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