2012 is looking like a bumper year for fans of Studio Ghibli and Miyazaki. We have already had the BD release of the superb Whisper of the Heart, and now we have their latest masterpiece, Arrietty, available on the shiny (not really) blue discs.
Based on the popular children?s story ?The Borrowers? by Mary Norton (published 1952), Arrietty tells the tale of tiny people who live alongside, under and around human beings, borrowing items that they need and trying hard to avoid being seen. In the Ghibli version, the story takes place in semi-rural Japan, where a young boy, Sho, has moved to live with his grandmother to rest up before he has a major heart operation. One night he spots Arrietty and her father borrowing some sugar and so starts the story proper, as he tries to find her again and strike up a friendship, while Arrietty?s parents panic and decide it is time for them to move home. I won?t reveal any more of the story as you should have the chance to enjoy the way it slowly unfolds for yourself.
So let?s dive in to the BD itself. First off, unlike the other recent Ghibli BD releases, this copy of Arrietty comes with just one bonus feature, an opportunity to watch the entire film using the original storyboards (rather nice actually). Now, this may be because it was a review disc based on the single BD version, but it felt rather light for a BD release. Considering the noteworthy UK cast of acting luminaries, an extra on the UK casting, recording, etc? would have been nice. There were no trailers for other Ghibli titles, and strangely, no sign of the traditional ?blue? Ghibli logo screen. Somehow, without these things the disc felt lacking. There are two versions of the film available on BD?I think the review disc is the ?vanilla? single disc edition, as the listing for the Deluxe Collector?s Edition includes many more extras, including the promotional video for the beautiful music by Cecile Corbel. So it looks like the Deluxe Edition is the one to go for if you are a die-hard fan (that would be me then!) with the plain version being a great buy for the kids.
Picture quality is, as always with a Ghibli release, exquisite, ranging from fully vibrant sunshine-laden gardens, to shadow-infested torch-illuminated under the floorboards living. The sense of scale and size in Arrietty?s world is breath-taking and the artists have excelled themselves in making the two worlds fit together so beautifully. I have a small bugbear, as I do with ALL films/TV shows where there is a small world and a large world interacting?.it is this, why slow down the giant human hands when seen from the smaller Borrower perspective? They are smaller people, but they don?t perceive the world around them moving at a different speed, otherwise EVERYTHING bigger than them would appear to be in slow motion, including rain drops, flowing water, birds, cats, etc? Plus Arrietty would hear Sho speaking at a slower rate and lower pitch. There is an inconsistency within the film over this issue, and while it in no way diminishes the story or the enjoyment of the film, it does betray a rare lack of care and attention from the Ghibli team.
Sadly the sound mix suffers from a similar problem. 99% of the sound is a pure delight. From the sumptuous songs and score by Cecile Corbel (see, another Ghibli film without Joe H doing the music!), to the soundscapes of gardens and dolls houses, the overall production is genuinely well done. The surround mix works particularly well in building a sense of space and scale when then two worlds collide. However, there is 1% that, for me, fails. I mentioned this when I reviewed the film on its cinema release, and rather hoped the problem was the fault of the sound system in the viewing rooms, but alas, it remains on the BD mix as well. And again, it is one of scale and acoustical physics. When we hear the world from Arrietty?s perspective there is an inconsistency with levels and speed. Sometimes the sounds e.g. clock ticks are at ?human scale? and so are slowed down slightly and made a lot louder (even though they are still the same distance away?so would they really sound louder and slower to smaller ears?) but at other times e.g. thunder and lightning, the sounds are kept as how a human would hear them, even though we are perceiving them from the Borrower perspective. Why the inconsistency? Yes, sound is as important a tool for storytelling as anything visual, and in the instance of the clock ticking, or the first few raindrops hitting, there is a justification for dramatic use of sound. All I would hope for is that such skilled storytellers as Ghibli would find a more consistent and balanced approach to their sound design. This may, of course, be something no-one else picks up on (especially kids), and I mention it only because it irked me twice now, and beyond these minor quibbles, I can find nothing to dislike about this BD release of Arrietty.
Destined to become another much-loved Ghibli masterpiece, to sit alongside Spirited Away, Howl?s Moving Castle, My Neighbour Totoro and Ponyo, Arrietty is a wonderful film that is perfect for children of all ages, and a real treat for older Ghibli fans. It straddles the two styles of Ghibli, the fantastical and the human, and does so with consummate ease, a soft touch and a beauty that is rare outside of the Totoro-factory. And unlike so many Western films, Ghibli are not scared to end their movie with so much of the story still to tell?we get just a small snapshot of Arrietty and Sho?s stories, it is tantalising, but still manages to sate out appetites. Miyazaki and his team continue to create escapist fantasies that educate and entertain, but most of all, make us feel warm and happy. I heartily recommend Arrietty as a purchase on BD?just go for the Deluxe Edition if you can afford it, the extras are better!