One of the things I did while I was on leave was actually to watch some movies, in an attempt to reduce the reproachful, tottering Pile of Unwatched Doom. (Currently embarked upon Star Wars: Clone Wars
, which is so far vaguely cool, although its Anakin may be unduly... chiselled.) Two of the actual movies were the most recent Studio Ghibli offerings, both of which were lovely in rather different ways.Arrietty
is based on Mary Norton's classic children's book The Borrowers
, which I ended up re-reading before I watched the film. Lord, I'd forgotten how harsh and claustrophobic and threatening a story it can be - the world of tiny little people living in the corners of normal human existence is precarious and paranoid, and the books are rather despairing about human attitudes to things that are tiny and powerless and vulnerable to being categorised, diminishingly, as either "vermin" or "cute". The Studio Ghibli version is slightly less cruel, but the story still fits naturally with the usual Ghibli preoccupations with environmental destruction, and with the sense of a fragile species watching their specific niche eroded inexorably by unthinking humanity. That being said, the film is beautiful, particularly in its sense of nature, and in its visual fascination with the contrasts and whimsies inherent in very small people interacting with very large things. It manages to retain the spirit of the Norton ending while still providing a sense of uplift, which is quite a feat. I enjoyed it, but it also made me realise that "enjoy" isn't really a word I ever applied to the books, they're too uncomfortable.The Tale of the Princess Kaguya
is very much more folkloric, and I've added it to my considerable list of fairy-tale things I should probably write papers on. Unlike Arrietty
, which has a very standard Ghibli aesthetic and animation style, Princess Kaguya
is something of a departure, its visual feel far more impressionistic and watercolour, and astonishingly beautiful. The recognisable folkloric motifs of the peasant man and wife who find a tiny, magical child in the bamboo grove very quickly give way to an exploration of the mannered artificiality of the Japanese medieval nobility - "Princess" as social construct rather than naturalised fairy-tale icon. (Don't worry, the mad fantastic elements snap right back into place). It's a sad story, and one which is as concerned as Arietty
was with the importance of unfettered identity, and the idea of agency in, and celebration of, the natural world. It also has sweepingly fantastic sequences which are simply breathtaking, and it packs enough of an emotional punch that it made me cry at a couple of points. I loved this; it's very much its own thing, difficult to find comparisons, but I'll re-watch this over and over.
(My subject line is Bowie's "Glass Spider", which is weird and fairy-tale all in its own right).