Sunday, February 26, 2012

The Secret World of Arrietty

[NOTE: There will be spoilers to the film. Of course... If you have a heart and an understanding of narrative beauty & story-telling, you should realize that my spoilers in no way harm the value of viewing the film for yourself. But you've been warned.]

It's rare that I'll get into anything on this blog that isn't heavily intellectual, philosophical, or work-related. This is by well-considered choice, of course... As open as I am with my thoughts on a lot of broad topics, my feelings and personal life I tend to like to keep for myself and those closest to me.

Nothing about that has really changed, however I want to break away from my usual book-length tirades on economics and politics to talk about a film that - as good art frequently does for me - reframed my feelings about a relatively significant life-event that I'm currently experiencing. I can't do that without alluding to at least some aspects of these experiences... So this is personal.

The Secret World of Arrietty is a newly released (or at least, newly distributed in the United States) film by Studio Ghibli... The production company run by master Japanese animator, Hayao Miyazaki.

It is based on the book series, "The Borrowers" by Mary Norton... I have not read these books, so I'm not really qualified to comment on the source material, but the film is about a pair of young teenagers who meet at an important time in each of their lives.

One is a human boy named Shawn who has recently been relocated to his mother's childhood home to rest before heart surgery; and the other is the "borrower", Arrietty - a normally proportioned girl who is about 3" tall.

The two essentially fall in love with each other as innocent & platonic friends... This bond is a common and recurring theme in most of Miyazaki's films, in case you're unfamiliar with his body of work.

Without divulging much of the story, over the course of the film, the love developed between Shawn & Arrietty comes to deeply affect each others' lives; changing them both for the better... But as is also a common theme in Miyazaki's work, in the end, Shawn & Arrietty cannot remain together physically and must eventually separate, having successfully transformed as characters. They say their bittersweet goodbyes and leave each other only with loving memories of their time together.

There is little more painfully real or beautiful in life than sharing experiences and deeply connecting with another person for only a short time.

And... without going into too much detail here... I find myself experiencing exactly these emotions and feelings now, as the person who has meant the most to me and has been my closest friend since moving to Washington, D.C., is now leaving for China.

There is no guarantee that I will see her again... and if that is the case, I can say with complete certainty that my life will be immensely poorer for it.

My life is already poorer for it.

I hope, of course, that she comes back into my life in a more tangible way as soon as possible and that in the interim I do not lose touch with her...

Life is strange & mysterious and it has ways of bringing people back together sometimes. I like to believe that this will be the case. As I get older and more financially secure, it fortunately becomes easier to make sure I see friends again as well, which is good... But who knows when, where or under what circumstances that may be - if it happens at all.

What has become exceptionally clear in the last few weeks is how important this person has become to my life in DC so far... It's one of those unexpected, entirely unplanned things when you find someone you truly care about, but it's also one of life's most beautiful surprises. Unfortunately, caring about people also tends to mean that you feel it when they are no longer there.

So to see her leave the city as I come into the full implication of my realization is a minor tragedy for me. By now, she knows all this and I hope the feeling is, for the most part, mutual... if not quite identical.

Studio Ghibli's film touches me most because of what I'm feeling now, and this always strikes me as one of the most intriguing aspects of art.

The ability of film (and all good art, really) to influence your emotions based not just on the "intrinsic" or objective merits of the artwork itself, but more-so on the experiences and emotional baggage you bring with you as the audience, is incredibly interesting to me. I entered the theater today reflecting on what's happening in my life right now... and because the film mirrored much of what I'm already feeling, it only served to enhance and further define the thoughts I brought with me.

Not all films can do this, however... Good art, in my estimation, is the stuff that sticks with you and challenges you or influences you to think and feel more deeply than you did before the experience. Miyazaki's films seem all to be capable of this on some level... The Secret World of Arrietty is certainly no exception.

[What follows is a pretty big spoiler... So again, you've been warned

Ultimately, however... It's the very last few lines of the film which are the most touching of all to me, and the most relevant to how I'm feeling now. It is the end that made me want to write this, and talk more - if even only to myself - about the film, and the story's relationship to my own story.

Shawn catches up with the borrowers just as they are leaving for a safer home, and he brings with him a sugar-cube as a (plot-significant) gift, showing his affection for Arrietty.

They have this conversation:

Arrietty: "I have to go. When is your operation?"
Shawn: "The day after tomorrow. I'm going to be okay. You gave me the courage to live."
Arrietty: [Unclipping the pin from her hair & giving it to Shawn] "For luck."
Shawn: "Thanks."
Arrietty: [Now crying] "You protected me after all."
Shawn: "Arrietty..."
Arrietty: "I hope you have the best life ever. Goodbye."
Shawn: "Arrietty., you're a part of me now. I'll never forget you, ever."

I know what they mean.

Perhaps I can often be accused of allowing my feelings in these matters to get the best of me. They have - as a few of my better friends know - gotten me into trouble on more than one occasion in my life and have from time to time caused me unimagined pain in the end. It is unquestionably risky to go out on a limb like I have often done.

But... Having survived the pain which has resulted from some of those moments, it still seems to me that the importance of having the strength to commit to one's feelings about certain, very special individuals is what humanity should really be about.

What is the value of life without love?

And so, this just can't mean hiding how you feel, hedging your bets or living in fear that someone won't care for you the way you care for them in an attempt to avoid pain. It must mean boldness and courageousness, in spite of the very real possibility that the people you've given your heart to - as friends, and as more than friends - may not feel the same way... It may end badly sometimes... But without the risk, there is no possibility of growth and reward. And without that, what's the point?

I do not want timid, mediocre friends or girlfriends.

I want people who know who I really am and who will be around - if only in spirit in some cases - for everything. I want them to know how I feel about them, and of course I want them to feel as strongly for me. I hope the important ones do. This - by the way - isn't intrinsically a romantic consideration either. I hope my male friends know how much they mean to me as well. The ones who matter do.

To me... That's what's important in life, and as I grow older, the more I understand how important it all really is. Every so often, I get to experience a beautiful piece of art which does a great job reaffirming it for me when I start to forget.

I hope I'm not alone.


Travis Bean said...

This was wonderful, I really felt your passion surrounding the film. As a Miyazaki film, I found it a bit disappointing (you can read my review), but this review captures why I love movies. They can have various effects on people, touching them in beautifully different ways. So thanks for sharing, it was a pleasure to read!

J.G. Banks said...

I agree wholeheartedly with your assessment of this movie and the feelings it invokes.

This was a fantastic review and if the subject matter was abit more personal than you normally do i think you should keep at it this way.

This having been the first time ever coming to your blog i must say I will be coming back to keep an eye on your escapades and shenanigans

Anonymous said...


Anonymous said...

I found your writing quite in harmony with the tones of the film , in style and most specifically, in clarity.
Writing, after all, is also an art:)