My daughter came home a month ago and gave me that amazed look of hers. “Why didn’t you tell me Miyazaki had a movie coming out?” She’d seen the poster for The Secret World of Arrietty displayed in the lobby of the Grand Theater. She was so excited she almost sent the stack of Miyazaki DVDs that live on our end table tumbling.
She had me. Hayao Miyazaki snuck this one in on me, the household movie know-it-all. My excuse, it wasn’t officially directed by the master. His protégé Hiromasa Yonebayashi did the honors. But, it has Miyazaki’s fingerprints all over it. From the very first image of too blue sky and white, billowy clouds; I knew I was in good hands.
As a young man passes through a tunnel of trees to arrive at an old house born as if from fairytales, I settled back into my seat with a sigh. Memories of My Neighbor Totoro, Spirited Away, and Ponyo – my three favorite Miyazaki movies – danced through my thoughts.
My daughter and I talked about the movie afterwards:
Me: I knew I was going to love that movie from the very first shot. Miyazaki has such a passion for nature. I’ve never seen an animated movie so filled from corner to corner of the frame with life, trees and plants and flowers.
Her: I just love all the moments when he holds on images of nature and how that nature always seems to be opening up before us. There’s something so delightfully, I dunno, random about his view of nature.
Me: He is probably the cinema’s most passionate environmental activist. He should be a spokesperson for Greenpeace or something. Just think about the great spirit of the river in Spirited Away, nauseated to overflowing with the river’s pollution. And, of course, saving the environment is everything in Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind.
Her: And nobody does sunsets better. I forget I’m watching an animated movie sometimes because nobody else makes them the way he does.
Me: This movie seemed a first in a way. He has always loved to include magic in his movies. Parents who make pigs of themselves and then literally turn into pigs, a little fish that turns into a little girl so she can befriend a little boy, and a young witch flying around on a broomstick in Kiki’s Delivery Service are all Miyazaki favorites. But, here, he makes tiny people living beneath the floor of a house seem completely natural.
Her: I agree, totally. He is so good at making all of his characters, no matter how fantastic, seem real. It’s like mom reading the Pern stories and wanting to have her own pet dragon. This movie made me want to have my own dollhouse filled with little people. Remember how I wanted my own pet dust creatures after watching Totoro? That’s what his stories and his imagination do for me. And the stories are so touching they make me cry.
I highly recommend that parents share Arrietty with their kids. A mother sat in front of us with her two small children, so small they were dwarfed by their boxes of popcorn. And those kids were totally enraptured. They had chattered nonstop before the lights went down. But once the tale of tiny borrowers journeying through an enormous kitchen to steal a sugar cube got underway, they sat perfectly still, not another peep.
Their mom looked pleased. She sat back, laughed, and had a great time as well. Miyazaki is very healthy food for young kids of all ages.
(Todd Ford has been a film nut since 1981. He watches far too many movies through Netflix and enjoys a home life with his wife, two daughters, two dogs and five cats.)