I've got to be honest with you, the last few Studio Ghibli movies (including Tales From Earthsea of course, but also Ponyo and Howl's Moving Castle) have disappointed me and left me feeling like the greatness of Ghibli's past was gone forever. Hell, My Neighbors the Yamadas first started to make me worry about the decline of the House of Totoro, but that seemed to be a fluke at the time. Anyway, it was with a cautious heart that I went into Ghibli's newest flick, The Borrower Arrietty, by first time director Hiromasa Yonebayashi (say that five times real fast), who was also the youngest Ghibli man to ever helm one of their movies too (as a giant snub to Goro Miyazaki, Ghibli's founder Hayao Miyazaki's retarded son, and director of the truly subpar Earthsea). And I am here to tell you that The Borrower Arrietty is pretty damn fantastic. It almost completely renewed my faith in the famed studio... At least it did until I found out that their next movie is being directed by Goro Miyazaki again... Seriously, fuck you, Ghibli. Will you not learn?!
Okay, so I liked Arrietty, what else? What was it about? WHY did I like it? Why does every other anime reviewer on the planet suck the dick of every last Ghibli film as if it is LAW to love them all (really now, Earthsea just stinks! Just because Hayao Miyazaki's son made it doesn't make it good... In fact, most artists' children have NO artistic talent at all, people!)?!
So The Borrower Arrietty is almost a direct translation of the old British book The Borrowers, except it's set in Japan. I'm too lazy to look up when the book was written and by whom (it's been decades since I read it), so you'll have to take my word for it. The Borrowers are little people (10 centimeters high) who live under houses and "borrow" from the big people whose abode they're parasites of, even though they never in fact return anything, and technically should be known as "Dirty Fucking Robbers." But whatever.
In one very old house in Japan lives one family of Borrowers led by patriarch Pod, his nervous wife Homily, and their adventuress young daughter called Arrietty (whose name is the only one misspelled from the original stories because the Japanese know best I guess). The Borrowers of this clan have lived under the floorboards of this specific house for ages and ages, trying not to be seen and eking out their modest existence because if they're ever spotted by a "human bean" they know that they'll have to move in order to avoid extermination by the home owners. Now, I know what you're thinking, "What?! Extermination?! Who'd want to kill off such a cute and happy family that doesn't hurt anybody, and doesn't even leave mouse droppings in the cupboard when they raid it for a single cracker and sugar cube a month?!" I thought the same thing too. I thought that Pod's clan was just overreacting like a bunch of hypochondriacs in a ghetto's STD clinic on a Friday night, especially when the elderly home owner's young great-nephew comes to stay in the house to relax and get ready for a heart operation he's going to have in a few weeks. Sho, the kid with the organ issues, is a kind and gentle boy, and when he first sees a not-too-catious Arrietty out in the overgrown yard all he wants to do is give her family gifts and make their lives easier.
My initial fears were that this was going to be another Ponyo, what with no real dangers or sense of excitement at all, just boring shit and gay sharing between Sho and Arrietty, but then Sho's great-aunt's maid (a wicked and ancient whore named Haru) discovers the Borrowers and wants to catch them and... I guess do things to them. Haru is a wrinkled old monkey, and she's such a complete bitch too. For some reason she thinks that magical little people living in your house who never pee in your mouth when you're sleeping, or hide your keys, or eat the cat are a bad thing. She becomes obsessed with finding the little people's home and putting them all in jars, and it's up to weakling (but crafty) Sho, and his new miniature maiden pal Arrietty to keep the maleficent maid from kidnapping the wee ones with the help of some exterminators she's hired.
True, it's not high drama in the least, but it's along the lines of Kiki's Delivery Service in terms of storytelling. Meaning there is some tension, and lives are in danger in the end, but it's fairly lightweight. Although it's not just two preschoolers playing around in the water. God Ponyo bored me...
So what did I like about The Borrower Arrietty? I liked the characters — Arrietty and Sho especially. Sho acted just like I would have in his situation, and Arrietty was just so goddamn adorable. I was also blown away by the production design of the whole thing. Most of the movie is seen from Arrietty's perspective, and the world around her is amazing to behold. Everything is so mind-numbingly dazzling! Spectacular! Stupendous! Cromulent! Embiggeny! It's almost a shame that you grow so used to the breathtaking visuals in the second half, but that just proved to me that the level of painstaking detail was kept up from beginning to end, and no shortcuts were made in the creation of this film which would have stuck out like a diseased yak had they slipped.
Oh, and before I forget, you're going to want to have at least a rudimentary surround sound system hooked up to your TV when you watch this movie. The sounds! The glorious use of sound effects in The Borrower Arrietty are so ear-fuckingly awesome! See, not only do we get to SEE what life at 10 centimeters high is like, but we get to experience it aurally too, and it is a whole new world of ear-tickling goodness. From the ever-present creaks in the old house to a single cricket chirping to the wind... It's all familiar, but also all-encompassing and HUGE. You really need to experience it for yourself; explaining new sound techniques properly is like trying to explain "water" to somebody who's never been wet before. Just know that it is something special, and it might make your pants wet from slack-jawed amazement.
Was there anything I didn't like?... Well, that old cunt Haru for one. I hated her, but I was supposed to detest her guts; she was totally the bitchy villain of this tale. I only wish that Sho's great-aunt fired Haru's ass for trying to exterminate the peaceful Borrowers, especially since the aunt always dreamed of seeing the wee ones after being told stories of them from her father when she was a child. Seriously, after dreaming of these little friends for like 70 years wouldn't you be fairly ticked to learn that your ugly old maid tried to capture or KILL them? Ugh... Japanese people. I'd have tied the maid down and let the borrowers stab her to death with toothpicks if it were me.
Okay, fine, I admit it, this Borrowers movie was cute. I don't remember the original books all that well, but this Ghibli movie was at least FIFTY TIMES better than The goddamn Littles! Christ! That's when you knew that your Saturday morning was over, when the shitty Littles came on, and you were quick with the clicker to turn that crap off... Then you'd sigh, and eventually force yourself to go outside and play with your friends and discuss all the GOOD cartoons that you watched that morning.
This Borrowers movie is nothing like The Littles: It's well animated, the characters are fun and cute, its story isn't lame, and there's no fucking cousin Dinky in this movie, thank Christ on a crutch! Instead it's just a simple tale of a small family trying to live with their human hosts who don't even know they've set up shop in the crawl space. No wacky hijinks, no goofy slapstick, and an ending that's very bitter sweet and TOTALLY un-Hollywood. And for that I applaud it. You know if this was a Hollywood picture that Sho and Arrietty would somehow become boyfriend and girlfriend, and the evil maid would be cooked alive in her own oven, and all the Borrower families that lived in the area would find themselves together again and have a big party with a giant cake... But this is a Japanese movie based on a British film, and the Brits and Japanese can sure do somber when they put their minds to it. And I thank them for that.
One day, I saw a creepy-looking rat going to eat my cheese in the kitchen. "Why are you eating my cheese, you dick," I asked. The rat is then said "I am not your rat, Kuni-man, I am a borrower." And soon I knew that I had a magical friend for life.
Me and the borrower drank and ate and played all day until I found my pants were full of pee and poo because I was having too much fun playing and forgot to go to the bathroom. But then, the day after, the borrower was sadly dead, and I was very, very upset. So I cooked up my small friend and ate him to gain his borrower powers. I then woke up in the hospital with my stomach pumped, and scratches up and down my arms and legs and privates. Then I was really sad since I lost my friend and his powers. The colors I saw that day were really strange too.
(NOTES FROM THE ROSSMAN: Ahhhhhhh, now it all makes perfect sense. After Kuni dropped 3-times the recommended dosage of Jimmy Jammer's hidden acid stockpile he made a friend with a leprous rat he found in the alley behind the Sea Wench Pub, and played with it until he decided to fry it up and eat it. We got him to the hospital just as he flatlined, rattail still poking out of his lips. I've never seen an ER nurse projectile vomit like that before. I guess all Kuni wanted was a mini-human friend to play with.... And eat.)