Arrietty (Kari-gurashi no Arietti)

Arrietty (Kari-gurashi no Arietti) 2010

Before Hiromasa Yonebayashi became a founding member of Studio Ponoc, he was working at Ghibli on a lot of their blockbuster films. Arrietty was his debut as director, with a screenplay that Miyazaki adapted from The Borrowers. (Another example of his interest in storytelling from the UK).

This one is not in my top five Ghibli films, but I do prefer Arrietty to Yonebayashi’s other feature for the studio, When Marnie was There.

Ultimately, what keeps this one from climbing up the ranking in my mind, is the ending, which felt a little flat compared to the rest of the film… but I won’t try to claim that it’s a bad ending, because that’d be an exaggeration, I reckon.

What I loved most was the clear ‘world-within-a-world’ that existed in the film, with the borrowers having not only their own home and cast-off possessions, but that different perspective on human homes.

It’s a warm, intimate world where little is wasted and ‘simple’ tasks take on more epic dimensions – like that first quest for sugar. (Those scenes show the same beautiful attention to detail Ghibli is known for, mirrored in the natural world too, but for me I think of the house most whenever I remember Arrietty.)

I won’t ramble on much longer, but the tension between the Arriety and Sho’s storylines eventually meeting is great, and I always find it sad but sweet when he tries to switch the kitchen around. But of course – in the end, he cannot help Arrietty and her family, as the power of one small boy cannot fully stand up to the cruelty of the adult world.

Still, Arrietty isn’t a tragedy, so there’s an ultimately uplifting ending in store if you’ve never seen this one 🙂

4 Stars

Modest Heroes (Chīsana Eiyū: Kani to Tamago to Tōmei Ningen)

Modest Heroes (Chīsana Eiyū: Kani to Tamago to Tōmei Ningen) 2018

I hope interest in Studio Ponoc stays high as we’re now nearly three years out from their first feature and a year on from Modest Heroes, the first in a series of shorts. And while I’m personally a bit wary of commissions from giant corporations, I’m kinda excited about the IOC asking Ponoc to work on a short for the 2020 Olympics.

Part of that excitement does come from how much I enjoyed Modest Heroes – three shorts unified by the theme of smaller, perhaps more intimate victories. And aside from what seem like small stakes compared to say, an epic, there’s still plenty of drama and tension in Modest Heroes.

Since each story is quite brief I won’t ruin the plots, other than to say another common link appears to be family, though the final story Invisible focuses more on missing connections – and I thought it was really bittersweet, actually. It used a soft, even sombre look to the backgrounds really well and animating an invisible character must have been tough – it was handled so nicely I thought – like the striking of the keyboard in one scene. None of the shorts are dialogue-heavy either, which becomes a feature, though the second story has more than the others.

While Invisible is probably my favourite of the three I also really enjoyed the first, Kanini & Kanino, the underwater story with the amazing trout sequence and the fantastic use of purple light (that’s actually echoed in Invisible). And while Life Ain’t Gonna Lose is just as good I think what I enjoyed most about that one was the simple fact that it was essentially about Anaphylaxis – as a teacher I see a lot of students struggle with that really unfair set of circumstances.

If you like Ponoc’s work or the Ghiblies then you’ll doubtless enjoy Modest Heroes.

4 Stars

Mary and The Witch’s Flower (Meari to Majo no Hana)

Mary and The Witch’s Flower (Meari to Majo no Hana)

2017

It’s hard now, even a couple of years later, to remove myself from the sense of expectation that swept (what seemed like) most of the world during the lead up to the release of Mary and the Witch’s Flower.

There was a lot to look forward to – Studio Ponoc had formed from the ‘ashes’ of Ghibli and had Yoshiaki Nishimura and Hiromasa Yonebayashi on deck, bringing a lot of Ghibli animators with them. More, they were adapting a British children’s tale as Studio Ghibli had done so successfully before and the teaser art seemed to evoke the familiar wondrousness of both Kiki and Spirited Away.

Then the actual preview was released and my anticipation for the movie rose again; it felt like the film was going to be a stunning work, despite the lurking knowledge that not only was it rare for a successor to really live up to its predecessor, but that it was also entirely unfair of me not to judge the Mary on its own merits.

And right up until the end of the opening sequence of Mary and the Witch’s Flower I’d thought that I could manage to step away Ghibli’s legacy but by the end of the story I’d caught myself making too many unfavourable comparisons.

Now, I know I tend to start more than a few reviews with a structure that outlines what I didn’t enjoy before finishing with the great things – so you can probably guess where this is going, right?

Because as with so many of my short reviews, I’m going to say that this is still a beautifully animated film with bold colours and character design, that the music is still distinctive and that there’s fun and adventure here and that if you haven’t seen it for whatever reason, you should still give it a shot.

Just go in expecting something bright and imaginative but something that doesn’t have that timelessness that Ghibli managed, nor anything quite so exciting as the thrilling opening sequence – as there’s nothing quite that impressive after, but again, I’m not at all claiming that it’s a bad film or even only an adequate one, it’s truly great but it’s not stunning.

And maybe that’s a cruel yardstick to try and hold a film up against, huh?

4 Stars