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Slightly atmospheric but ultimately poorly done adaptation
Having recently revisited George RR Martin's haunting and intelligent novella NIghtflyers in his anthology Dreamsongs, I decided to finally put in the effort to find a copy of this mostly unknown film adaptation. I didn't even have to read the few reviews out there to know it most likely was not going to be fantastic; the fact that it has never been released on DVD combined with the author's warning about the quality of this film was enough of a hint towards what to expect. Still, I went in with a open mind and hoped to enjoy a probably mediocre rendition of a great novella. And there were good parts to it; that classic atmosphere of loneliness that only 80's sci-fi seems have to it, aided by a enjoyably camp and moody synthesizer score. And the very few scenes that used dialog lifted straight from George's novel got across a tiny bit of the engrossing story and character of the novella. Other than that, the story and characters get mostly butchered, sad to say. The story becomes both extremely simplified and extremely convoluted, and the strange editing doesn't help. A staggered set-up quickly dissolves from intro into a prolonged climax that takes up the time that could have been used for a proper second act, destroying the chance for any real character to develop. And the films ending itself is perhaps the greatest disservice to the novella it was based on, being mostly non-sensical and maintaining only the smallest resemblance to the original story. So yes, not a great movie by any stretch, not even a good movie. And certainly not a good adaptation. But still, I'm glad I saw it.
Seeing Uncle Phil from Fresh Prince in a space suit made it all worthwhile.
Kari-gurashi no Arietti (2010)
Now, unless you live in Japan and actually made it to one of the opening showings, I'm probably the only person reading this who has watched Arrittey so far. As such, I'm going to try my best to review the movie without giving any real spoilers away. And the first thing I have to say is, I thought Arrietty the Borrower was a wonderful movie. 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. On the one hand, it had the huge imagination and fully realized and fantastically detailed world of a Miyazaki movie. On the other hand, it had a unique feeling of bittersweet melancholy and wonderful character interactions somehow unlike most of the films that have come before it.
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. And it was so hard to believe this was his first film; I often feel like I should give Miyazaki Goro some slack for Earthsea because it was his first movie, but Arrietty just seemed so well thought-out and put together comparatively. This really makes me beyond excited to see what Yonebashi does in the future. There are many aspects of the film that deserve mention for how damn well-done they were; the beautiful animation, the strong voice-work, the great characters, the fantastic music. What is easily one of the standout points of the movie was how incredibly immersive the tiny world of the Borrowers was. Every part of their home, located beneath a pile of unused bricks stored under the human house, is made of small everyday items we hardly think about forgot junk that the Borrowers used so well as tools, furniture, decoration, everything. The sheer size of everything in comparison to them is striking, creating a strange world of adventure and dangers that are really just the most common, ignored of things to us humans. Perhaps my favorite scene is one where, very mild spoilers here, Arrietty's father takes her borrowing for the first time. They walk nimbly across nails sticking out from the foundations of the building, use construction staples as ladders, bouldering over the (to them) boulder sized junk lost between the walls of the house. Far bellow a few mice, the size of lions, scurry in the gloom, their eyes burning red. When Arrietty and her father final exit from between the walls into the darkened kitchen at night, the sheer enormity of the room, the intense sound of the looming and massive refrigerator, the sheer walls that compromise the sides of cabinets, they all take the breath out of both Arrietty and the viewer. That entire scene, where they use ingeniously use tiny household items to scale the counters to raid for sugar cubes a third their size, is simply amazing to watch. So many magical scenes like this made up the entire movie, but that was perhaps the best of them all. The characters are for the most part wonderful as well, though in some ways more subdued than Miyazaki tends to make his own. Arrietty is another in the long line of string Ghibli heroines, but like all of them manages somehow to be unique and wonderful all by herself. She's a young girl who's confident, kind, and capable, but is still unsure of herself at time. Sho, the young human she meets and the other main character, is a very strong character as well, his weak body and strong spirit in conflict, with a air or both peace and melancholy about him (like much of the movie, really). Another one of my favorites was Arrietty's father, who was both strong and quite, but in his own gruff way very kind and a great father. The rest of the cast is very good, though not quite as memorable.
As for the music for by Cécile Corbel, I'll admit that at first I was a little skeptical, but in the end the music fit the movie incredibly well and became another fantastic Ghibli soundtrack (which says something when you're included in the ranks among Hisaishi Joe). I love Celtic music myself, but those without that bias (the other 10 people I went with) all thought the music was one of the high points in a movie with a lot of really good points to discuss.
This really was an amazing first outing for Yonebashi as a director, and really one hell of a movie. My only complaints are 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. The movie had a sort of bittersweet feel that I really can't think of another Ghibli movie to compare to. Sad, joyous, and beautiful, Arrietty the Borrower is the newest Ghibli classic.