Book Review: The Art of The Secret World of Arrietty

Authors: Hiromasa Yonebayashi

Translator: Takami Nieda

Publication Date: 2012 (2018 ed.)

Publisher: Viz Media

Pages: 248 pages

Nieda #1

Hello again everyone, and welcome to what is (for now) the final review in my Ghibli Library series. This one, the companion book to Hiromasa Yonebayashi’s Arrietty (2010), is the fifth book in my collection, although I’m hoping to add another later in the year – I have the English edition of the Kaguya art book on pre-order!

The cover for this one is truly gorgeous, more colourful than the typical Ghibli art book and with less use of white space, rather like the one for Castle in the Sky. Inside, there are also a few pages of luscious backgrounds from the film’s garden before we even get to the contents page. I’ve mentioned it a few times now, but I love the glossy printing quality on this series; it really helps to bring the artwork to life.

In the book’s introduction, we get a brief run-down of the project’s inception and its production schedule, with special mention made of the involvement of both Hayao Miyazaki (who co-wrote the screenplay with Keiko Niwa), and Cécile Corbel, a French musician who was the first overseas artist to work for the studio (serving as the film’s composer and songwriter). There is also a small section devoted to the original book series – The Borrowers – and its author, Mary Norton.

Nieda #2

Next, we have the pre-production section, which includes a variety of sketch work from the preliminary concept and production stages, done mostly by Miyazaki and director Hiromasa Yonebayashi. They each get a small bio, as do the rest of the key artists from here on out, a small but important detail which I’ve appreciated in previous Ghibli art books. Snippets from the director intersperse the sketch collection presented here, and I couldn’t help noticing how much Yonebayashi deferred to others – particularly Miyazaki – throughout the process, despite being the director. There are numerous comments along the lines of, “I was thinking of doing it like this, but Miyazaki didn’t like it”, etc. etc. To be fair, though, this was his first time directing a feature, so it makes sense that he’d want to rely on the experience of his elders, and his own work speaks for itself, being every bit as vibrant, intricate and charming as that found in any other Ghibli film. My favourite part of this chapter was getting to see some early, very different iterations of Arrietty herself, giving us an idea of how her character might have ended up had the film gone in a different direction.

Nieda #3

This whole book is a real feast for the eyes, easily one of the most colourful volumes in the Ghibli Library – and that’s saying something. Continuing into the production section, “Making the Scenes, Layout and Process” follows the basic process of making an animated film, from key animation, ink and paint to photography. This is the book’s main section, walking us through every scene, setting and character, featuring more splendid artwork and further commentary from Yonebayashi explaining his choices along the way. It’s lovely to look through, giving you the same sense of tranquillity that the film itself instils.

As the book shows us, Miyazaki provided many key art sketches in addition to his scriptwriting duties, with character designs being divided between Ai Kagawa and Akihiko Yamashita, and Atsushi Okui directing the digital imaging once again, just a few of the film’s many talents. However, this being an art book, naturally the ones we hear the most from are the film’s two art directors: Yoji Takeshige, who talks about the director’s struggles in the early production stages and discusses his use of contrasting colour schemes to differentiate the human and borrower worlds, and Noboru Yoshida, who talks about how he created the world of the little people through careful use of texture and perspective, this being his chief responsibility while Takeshige focused on the humans.

Nieda #4

At the end of the book, we get the poster, then the usual complete voice-over script (no need to repeat myself on that count). The script, originally by Miyazaki and Niwa, was translated from the Japanese by Rieko Izutsu-Vajirasarn and Jim Hubbert, and was adapted into English by Karey Kirkpatrick. The lyrics to Cécile Corbel’s songs – The Neglected Garden, Our House Below and Arrietty’s Song – are also included, which I thought was a nice touch. We close with the film and book credits.

Nieda #5

I’m guessing the English version of the book is meant to accompany the American dub of the film specifically, as it insists on referring to Shō as “Shawn” and Aunt Sadako as “Aunt Jessica” (their Japanese names are retained in the British dub), but that’s a minor quibble. Aside from that, I have no complaints with this sumptuous art book, and can only hope that Takahata’s works receive similar spectacular treatment in future volumes.

Thank you so much for reading, and I hope you’ve enjoyed these book reviews. This little film is one of the studio’s more underrated efforts and is less often talked about than its more famous Miyazaki cousins, so I’d really like more people to experience both this book and the film itself.

Next time, we’ll be celebrating another anniversary here on Feeling Animated – they seem to roll around quicker every year – after which I’ll try to fit in another book review or short piece before April is over, if I can. Life continues to get more and more hectic; I’ve just got finished with jury service and am preparing to interview for a possible third job, which would put me up to around 55 hours a week! (That may not sound like much to my American readers, but trust me, that’s a lot over here.) I will of course always try to make time for my blogging, as I miss it and don’t want to neglect it, but film reviews will have to remain on hold for the time being. They will return someday!

Until next time, take care and staaay animated!

Buy it on Amazon: – UK – US – Viz Media’s page for Ghibli products

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