Laputa: Castle in the Sky (1986) PICK
The Secret World of Arrietty (2012) PICK
Whisper of the Heart (1995) PICK
Animation fans rejoice! The year’s most delightful animated film to date comes home, along with new Blu-ray/DVD editions of two very different but equally splendid films from the same source: the wonderful Studio Ghibli, home of animation master Hayao Miyazaki.
The Secret World of Arrietty is Ghibli’s adaptation of Mary Norton’s beloved book The Borrowers, which is about tiny people living in the secret spaces of big people’s houses.
Young Borrower Arrietty is a spirited heroine with likable parents and an especially endearing relationship with her ultracompetent father. She also forms a tentative friendship with a human boy named Shawn, a relationship that is anathema to Borrowers and threatens the family’s well-being.
There’s a decency and courtesy here rare in even better Hollywood family fare. Best of all is the film’s sheer beauty and its visualization of how the Borrowers live; in almost every scene there’s a new revelation.
Also new on Blu-ray/DVD, Laputa: Castle in the Sky is a very different film, a rollicking sci-fi adventure that’s part Star Wars, part Raiders of the Lost Ark — or, rather, in keeping with the film’s steampunk Victorian milieu, part Edgar Rice Burroughs or Jules Verne, part Conan Doyle or Rider Haggard.
Set in an alternate 19th century full of fantastic Leonardo da Vinci-esque technology, the story pits a pair of young protagonists against ominous military forces and a dirigible pirate ship commanded by a crusty lady pirate (one of Miyazaki’s best characters) in a quest for a mysterious floating island in the clouds — one of the great imaginary places in movie history.
Finally, Whisper of the Heart is a sweet coming-of-age story as wispy and heartfelt as its name. An almost plotless tale of self-discovery, first love and the joy of creation, the naturalistic story could work as well in live action as animation, except for one fantasy sequence.
The story follows a young schoolgirl who has discovered the world of words but not yet the world of boys. In fact, she’s annoyed by the intrusion of boys into her world of words, starting with an unknown boy whose name she notices in the library cards of practically every book she borrows.
A gentle animated film about a girl who wants to write fantasy novels and a boy who wants to make violins: Good luck pitching this to a Hollywood studio. Yet in Japan it was the No. 1 film of 1995. Appreciative American viewers will understand why. P.S. You’ll never listen to John Denver’s Country Road the same way again.
Content Advisory: Laputa: Castle in the Sky: Sci-fi action violence; brief animist-leaning commentary. The Secret World of Arrietty: A couple of mildly frightening moments. Whisper of the Heart: Nothing problematic. All fine family viewing.