x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

The Borrowers gets the Studion Ghibli treatment

With the arrival of Studio Ghibli's new movie The Secret World of Arrietty, we look back at the legendary Japanese animation house's 10 best films.

The Secret World of Arrietty, by Studio Ghibli, is the latest version of Mary Norton's children's classic The Borrowers.
The Secret World of Arrietty, by Studio Ghibli, is the latest version of Mary Norton's children's classic The Borrowers.

The British author Mary Norton's children's classic The Borrowers – about a family of pocket-sized people struggling to survive in our world – has been the subject of several TV and film adaptations, but a version arriving in cinemas this week is perhaps the most unusual to date.

The lush gardens and towering rooms inhabited by the characters in The Secret World of Arrietty are brought to life by the Japanese animation house Studio Ghibli, best known for the world cinema classics My Neighbor Totoro and Spirited Away.

For almost 30 years, Ghibli has delivered beautiful and thought-provoking hand-drawn animations, capable of delighting children and adults alike, with Hollywood stars often lending their voices to the English language-dubbed versions.

It has also shown the world that anime doesn't have to be a genre obsessed with giant warring robots or short-skirted schoolgirls. The studio's co-founder, Hayao Miyazaki, is so revered for his artistic and story-telling genius, he has often been compared to Walt Disney, while the Toy Story director John Lasseter has spoken many times of his affection for Ghibli.

Offering a welcome alternative to the digital animation of Pixar and DreamWorks, the lengths of time needed to complete cell-animated films means the arrival of a new Ghibli movie is a rare event – and one that is not to be missed. When The Secret World of Arrietty inevitably wins you over, you'll want to watch these.

Castle in the Sky (1986)

Ghibli's first feature-length outing is a grand fantasy about the lost flying city of Laputa – originally from the book Gulliver's Travels. The steampunk adventure sees a girl with a mysterious past forced to go on the run with a young engineer as they try to unlock the ancient secrets of the Castle in the Sky.

Trivia: packed with wonderful and bizarre aircraft, flying machines have become a recurring motif in Miyazaki's work.

Grave of the Fireflies (1988)

One of the most powerful anti-war films ever made, Grave of the Fireflies follows the orphans Seita, 14, and his sister Setsuko, four, after the Kobe fire bombings at the end of the Second World War. Based on the novel of the same name, the tear-jerking story is made all the more devastating because of its beautifully animated characters.

Trivia: Isao Takahata's film has been condemned in Korea, where it was accused of attempting to justify Japan's actions during the war.

My Neighbour Totoro (1988)

A lighthearted, dreamlike tale about a pair of young sisters who move to a spooky country house with their father, My Neighbor Totoro is a common favourite among Ghibli fans. But despite the appearance of the titular forest spirit and several other wonderfully wacky creatures, the film tells a surprisingly bittersweet story.

Trivia: Totoro is not only Ghibli's company logo, but one of Japan's most beloved film characters. He even appears in Toy Story 3 as a stuffed toy.

Kiki's Delivery Service (1989)

Set in a version of 1950s Europe in which the Second World War never occurred, the story sees the teenaged witch Kiki attempting to overcome the adolescent fears that have been interfering with her flying. Before long, a near-disaster gives her a reason to become the story's much-needed hero.

Trivia: in the English version, Kiki is voiced by a 15-year-old Kirsten Dunst.

Porco Rosso (1992)

The film sees a 1930s Italian flying ace (who has been cursed to look like a pig), working as a freelance pirate hunter, who finally meets his match in an American flying ace. As well as being an action-packed adventure, the story is set against the troubling rise of fascism in Italy.

Trivia: one of the few Miyazaki-directed films with a male lead, the director is known for populating his movies with strong female protagonists.

Pom Poko (1994)

As human expansion begins to threaten the forest homes of Japan's raccoon population, the creatures decide to engage in industrial sabotage to save themselves from extinction. Luckily, the animals don't just have sticks and stones at their disposal, but magical powers of illusion, too.

Trivia: the story was inspired by Japanese folklore, which states that raccoons are able to assume the form of humans (or almost anything they wish), but are usually too fun-loving to be considered dangerous.

Princess Mononoke (1997)

Clocking in at well over two hours, this mediaeval fantasy epic is one of the longest animated films of all time. The story of a cursed young warrior who becomes embroiled in clan warfare, Mononoke is a surprisingly violent and bloody affair for the usually family-friendly Studio Ghibli.

Trivia: many commented on the striking plot similarities between Mononoke and the Hollywood smash Avatar when the latter was released in 2009.

Spirited Away (2001)

The tale of a timid city girl who accidentally enters a fantasy realm and is put to work in a bath house for magical creatures, Spirited Away might not sound like an instant hit. Yet the breathtakingly beautiful and imaginative film wowed audiences around the world and delivered a powerful environmental message.

Trivia: it remains the highest-grossing Japanese film ever and the country's only winner of the Academy Award for Best Animated Feature.

Howl's Moving Castle (2004)

When a young hat-maker is cursed by a witch and transformed into an old woman, her only hope for salvation comes in the form of the self-indulgent wizard Howl, who lives in a giant mechanical castle. The barmy story doesn't always make a lot of sense, but it's endearing nonetheless.

Trivia: Christian Bale reportedly agreed to voice Howl after seeing Spirited Away. The Batman star was born in Wales, where the original novel is set, however the film relocates the story to Alsace in France.

Ponyo (2008)

Although inspired by Hans Christian Andersen's The Little Mermaid, this film couldn't be more different from the Disney movie. It follows a five-year-old boy whose goldfish mysteriously turns into a young girl, Ponyo. When she decides to stay on dry land with her new friend, Ponyo's father, a powerful sea wizard, unleashes a devastating storm.

Trivia: the 71-year-old Miyazaki threatened to retire from directing after Ponyo and has not made a film since. However his son Goro released his second Ghibli film, From Upon Poppy Hill, last year in Japan.

 

artslife@thenational.ae