Ponyo made a splash at the box office last year and garnered plenty of critical praise from audiences and critics alike. Fast forward to present day, and the latest from Studio Ghibli features direction by veteran Ghibli animator Hiromasa Yonebayashi and a script by Miyazaki himself. The movie is based on Mary Norton’s book The Borrowers, the first in her five-book series chronicling the adventures of a diminutive family who make their life underneath the floorboards of a large house. The title comes from the fact they “borrow” everything they need to live from their human hosts, in amounts so small they are barely noticed.
The main character, Arrietty, accidentally allows herself to be seen by Sho, a sickly but well-intentioned 12 year old boy. This is when the meat of the story begins to pick up. While Miyazaki’s screen writing clearly had some great effects on the movie, I could really feel the new directorial style of Yonebashi shining through. The film threatens to devolve into the sappy, something that I would expect from a Studio Ghibli animation, but it is quite brief and doesn’t dwell on it too much. Of course, like previous films from this studio, attention to detail is a huge priority. What is easily one of the standout points of the movie was how incredibly immersive the tiny world of the Borrowers was.
The film is beautifully paced and stays true to the spirit of its source material, establishing an engaging world. Although, a beautiful movie, is it also kind of a sad one too. Aside from Sho having a Heart problem, you have the little family trying to survive on what they can find from the house. I won’t go into spoilers but it does get a bit dark. And, even so, The Borrowers’ story and characters lack the gravity and complexity for it to be considered on par with Ghibli works like Spirited Away or Grave of the Fireflies. Additional complaints were that perhaps at times it seemed to slow down during the second half, but in the end it turned out so well I can hardly fault it for that.
No incomprehensible final act here, just satisfying storytelling. Nowadays, what more could you ask for in a film? Hoepfully this gets a U.S. theatrical run but judging by Ponyo’s numbers at the box office it is unlikely. As an artist myself I have a great appreciate for this film. Yonebayashi also uses disparate artistic styles to create a stark contrast between the human and borrower worlds. The entire film had this amazing feeling of being both unique from other Ghibli movies while still maintaining the parts that make almost all of the Studio’s films so great. The beginning has beautiful music, but like some Gibli films, the into is kind of long. Still, all in all, this studio is as consistant as Pixar and this is another solid entry in a long catalogue of great films.