Spoilers below, so for all of those who haven’t seen the movie, I just want to say that I do recommend it.
As I’ve said before, I’m not the biggest fan of Takahata’s films, and while they don’t usually bore me, I haven’t been able to get emotionally invested in Miyazaki’s films either(with the exception of The Wind Rises), not to even mention Goro(I did not like From Up on Poppy Hill). If these three were the only directors over at Studio Ghibli, I would not have great expectations for the future(especially considering the elder Miyazaki might actually retire this time). Fortunately, however, Hiromasa Yonebayashi exists, and he’s the one who directed Karigurashi no Arrietty(The Secret World of Arrietty).
When I watched Arrietty, it immediately stood out even though I had watched several other Ghibli films in the recent past. Granted, there is a significant difference between Arrietty and the majority of Ghibli films when it comes to the music: The soundtrack was composed by French composer Cécile Corbel, not Ghibli mainstay Joe Hisashi. This is an interesting tidbit for sure, but music isn’t everything, and Arrietty did stand out in other ways as well. Whereas I feel Miyazaki’s films have characters mainly representing ideologies instead of being relatable individuals(which is usually fine because Miyazaki’s characters tend to have very interesting relationships), in Arrietty the characters are strongly affected by their personal emotions, hopes and fears. Shou can be very fatalistic, but the movie makes a point of emphasising that this is a personal worldview that he has adopted partially due to his own illness and that it’s not necessarily representative of all humans. Arrietty, on the other hand, is conflicted by the apparent paradox of her own existence: The borrowers have to hide from humans in order to not be captured and/or killed, which cultivates fear, but on the other hand the borrowers need to be able to move to a new home on a moment’s notice, which requires knowledge of the outside world, which requires adventurousness.
And that, the fact that the movie focuses so heavily on the characters’ inner conflicts, is not something I remember seeing in most other Ghibli films. It influences the ending as well: Arrietty and Shou do not ride into the sunset together, because they can’t. They do reach a sort of understanding, but part of this understanding is that humans and borrowers cannot live in harmony in this day and age. But the movie also shows that that’s ok. Our differences, i.e. the differences between any two people, is part of who we are. Smoothing out those differences is counterproductive: It only destroys personalities. Instead, we should aim to understand and accept each other for what we are. Ok, actually, I’m stretching my interpretations a bit here. Arrietty is not nearly as clear about this as I’m making it out to be, they only become really pronounced in Yonebayashi’s next film, When Marnie Was There. But I think the seeds of what made Marnie great were already there in Arrietty. It does have some psychological aspects to it. It has potential, and while the story itself is not the most satisfying thing ever, it does use that potential to its advantage.
Speaking of potential, I have to mention Mimi wo Sumaseba(Whisper of the Heart), which is another non-Miyazaki Ghibli film that I think had a lot of potential. Unfortunately, that potential was never fully realised due to the premature death of the director, Yoshifumi Kondo. Rest in peace, Kondo-san. You were on to something.