Book Review: The Art of The Secret World of Arrietty
In recent years, it has become a tradition to issue coffee-table “The Making of” art books with the release of their theatrical animation feature films. Although each book has its individual author, they are really joint products of their studio’s publicity departments. So The Art of The Secret World of Arrietty is probably more honest than most in being officially authored by Studio Ghibli, the Tokyo production studio of The Secret World of Arrietty, released in America on February 17, 2012 by Walt Disney Pictures. As Kari-gurashi Arrietty (The Borrower Arrietty), it was released in Japan on July 17, 2010, becoming the highest grossing Japanese film for the year 2010. (For those who want more specific book credits, the final page lists Senior Editorial Director Masumi Washington, with English adaptation by Takami Nieda.)
Studio Ghibli was co-founded in June 1985 by director Hayao Miyazaki. The studio has made sixteen features in almost thirty years, by several different directors, but all have been approved by Miyazaki and most feature his distinctive art style, which is as recognizable as Chuck Jones’ is for his cartoon works. In fact, the Amazon.com entry for this book confusedly misidentifies both the film’s director Hiromasa Yonebayashi and Miyazaki as the author of this “making of” book.
The book clearly states what it delivers. “This collection of concept sketches, concept art, backgrounds, character sketches and designs, and film stills follows the story of Studio Ghibli’s animated film The Secret World of Arrietty. All concept and rough character sketches are by director Hiromasa Yonebayashi; key art sketches by Hayao Miyazaki; concept art and backgrounds by the art staff supervised by art directors Yoji Takeshige and Noboru Yoshida; and character design by Ai Kagawa and Akihiko Yamashita. All of the images are stills from the film unless otherwise noted.” (p. 7)
The book follows the art production of the film in Japan; there is nothing about the Disney editing for America (though the American character names are used). (By contractual agreement, Disney has adapted the film without any editing or cuts.) The film is based upon the 1952 award-winning British children’s novel The Borrowers by Mary Norton. Studio Ghibli has a reputation for considerably rewriting the literary sources of its films, but Arrietty is a mostly faithful adaptation of the book. The major changes are moving the story from the 1950s English countryside to today’s Japanese countryside; giving the nameless Boy a name (Shawn), and writing the Borrower boy Spiller from Norton’s sequel The Borrowers Afloat into the plot. These changes are described in the Introduction, and in the original brief project design by Miyazaki. “Our familiar Koganei neighborhood would be fine as its location.” (p. 36).