Saturday, February 18, 2012

Studio Ghibli and the Power of Calm

We went to see 'The Secret World of Arriety' today and enjoyed it. It was my first experience going to a movie in a theater with Relia. She did a great job. The only antsy behavior had to do with standing up and since we sat in the back row that was not a problem.
After the movie the FP Gal talked about how calm a movie this was for a children's movie and I certainly agree. If you haven't seen 'Arriety' (here is the trailer), then you should know that this is a movie adaptation of the children series, 'The Borrowers'. Basically it is about a family of very tiny people, three or four inches tall, who live underneath a house. At night, they creep into the house so they can 'borrow' things that won't be missed. Like a cube of sugar, a tissue, or a pin. They live in constant fear that the big humans will discover them and do who-knows-what.
There is a sequence near the beginning of the movie where the main character Borrower, Arriety, is being shown by her father how to go up and do some borrowing. It's a long sequence with very little talking. It establishes how they move around in the house and how much precaution they take. Other films would play up and it would involve a constant battle of wits with the housecat. Not this one. We see and understand, without being presented with false drama.
And this is typical of Studio Ghibli. Not that this and other movies don't have drama and action, but in that it is never presented cheaply. It never feels like the story is merely marking time between chase scenes or fights. Instead it follows its own logical path.
There are other things too, that Ghibli gives you once you know to look for it. In almost all of the movies there is a scene of people settling down to make food and eat. This is a homey touch and it serves to ground the characters. A family simply makes more sense as a group when you watch them create a dinner space.
Almost every movie also makes use of rain too. In 'Arriety' there is a rainy day and the entire atmosphere changes. The tone of the movie becomes muted. They capture the rainy day experience in a way that few other movies do and they do it consistently.
The most surprising thing to me is that Studio Ghibli does all of this while making movies for children. Every film is intelligent and interesting but not because of flash or cloying characters. We watch a fair bunch of their movies regularly here at home and the kids genuinely enjoy them. And remember, this a four and a (not quite) two year old that I'm talking about. I wish that other studios would take some notes.

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