{film} the secret world of arrietty

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The Secret World of Arrietty (2010) is a sweet little Studio Ghibli film. Inspired by The Borrowers books by Mary Norton, Hiyao Miyazaki and Keiko Niwa infuse their own take on the little people who live beneath the floorboards and within the walls.

Hiromasa Yonebayashi makes his directorial debut for Studio Ghibli with the telling of those that may be the very last of their kind. Arrietty and her parents Pod and Homily may be the last of the Borrowers for all they know; they are certainly the last to live in this house in the lush countryside. This is an especially difficult situation for Arrietty who at 14 is becoming a young woman. She is a good daughter and tempers her bold adventures for the sake of her worry-ridden mother, but she is a bit lonely and ready (and not) to grow up.

Arrietty is finally being allowed to learn to fend/borrow for herself within the house when Sho comes to stay. Sho is a regular sized human boy who is convalescing while awaiting his heart surgery. He catches a glimpse of Arrietty and becomes fascinated by her and the stories of the little people. His aunt shares a sadness for the apparent disappearance of the little people who’d captured their imaginations generations before. This lament, the dwindling and retreat of fantastical beings, is noticeable throughout the film as well, especially as Arrietty’s family must retreat further into the wilds. Where lonely Sho would seek a friendship with Arrietty, the housemaid has a fascination of another sort and the situation becomes untenable.

With the injury of Arrietty’s father, the provider and mainstay of the family, comes a whisper of hope—Spiller. Spiller is a wild-looking Borrower who can help the family relocate. He is also young and quickly becomes sweet on Arrietty. He makes an lovely and interesting contrast to Sho who is—well—not a Borrower, but is also more modern, refined, and delicate. A wonderfully weird triangle ensues. Manohla Dargis, in her NYTimes review “In the Realm of the Tiny, Standing Up to the Big,” writes of Arrietty and Sho (aka Shawn in the English versions)

It’s initially a letdown that Arrietty and Shawn aren’t just friends, as in the book, but also something like impossible romantic foils. Yet this disappointment proves mostly premature because Studio Ghibli and Arrietty have a way of taking you where you may not expect, whether you’re scrambling through rooms as large as canyons or clambering into the safety of an outstretched hand, a simple gesture that says it all.

I was not letdown by Arrietty and Sho’s romantic reaction to one another so much as curious as to where the creators of Arrietty were going with it. In the end, I think it facilitates a tenderness, among all the sweetness that a young romantic relationship lends to the ideas of mutual fascination and discovery (both of self and other). It comes off as charming, and it doesn’t hurt that it adds to the tension of Arrietty’s departure and the strengthening of Sho’s broken heart (both literal and figurative).

Most of the charm in the film is not only in its gorgeous rendering ala classic Studio Ghibli, but in the imagining of the Borrowers themselves. What would their home and lives and adventures look like? What would they borrow to create these things? This aspect of the film is so much fun!

Other Studio Ghibli expectations met are in the strength and magnetism of their heroine; in the rendering of landscapes; in the slow but meditative pacing at times; in the remarks on the coexistence of the ancient and the modern; and in the film’s environmental message. Those unfamiliar with Miyazaki’s preoccupation with the preservation of nature (which is oft inextricably linked to the ancient and mystical) may find Arrietty a bit awkward at points. There is a conversation between Arrietty and Sho about endangered species and a correlation is made. One can also make the leap that the loss of creatures like Arrietty as well as the environment contribute to Sho’s frail state; especially in how they appear to revitalize him. For all the bittersweet in that ending, there is a hopefulness for Arrietty and her kind, as well as the audience (us). There is not only a sense of a revitalization of our imaginations, but of a hopefulness that fantastical creatures do linger, and there are places we can go to find them and ourselves—in nature. The film does double work, of course, because in desiring to know such beings and places exist, we must strengthen our hearts and resolves to preserve them.

recommendation…The Secret World of Arrietty is a quietly endearing kind of film for any age. I cannot say I would rate it up there with Spirited Away (2001) or Princess Mononoke (1997), but I would recommend it to anyone. Of the Studio Ghibli films that do come to mind in thinking about Arrietty: My Neighbor Totoro (1998) and Ponyo (2008) for the awe in the human characters’ responses, and Whisper of the Heart (1995) in the way the story unfolds, the slow pacing.

of note…I think Arrietty would make for a fun summer film with the young’uns (you know, anyone under 104) where afterwards you could design and/or build a room for a Borrower. Of course the film would make for a nice pairing with Mary Norton’s novel The Borrowers, primarily in looking at their cultural differences. There is a distinctly Japanese influence that, I believe, creates a different experience in Arrietty–and it is an infusion I very much enjoyed.

———-The Secret World of Arrietty (2010)——————

Directed by Hiromasa Yonebayashi; English language version directed by Gary Rydstrom [however I watched the Japanese version with English subtitles]; screenplay by Hayao Miyazaki and Meiko Niwa; based on the novels The Borrowers by Mary Norton; English language screenplay by Karey Kirkpatrick; supervising animators, Megumi Kagawa and Akihiko Yamashita; director of photography, Atsuhi Okui; art direction by Yoji Takeshinge and Noboru Yoshida; produced by Toshio Suzuki; released by Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures in the U.S. Running time: 94 minutes. Rated G.

N and her friends saw the English-speaking version in the theater. They as well as countless others assure me that the English-speaking actors (both the American and British) and the translation under Rydstrom are excellent.

IMDb link. Wiki page.

{image: the first, a minimalist poster by Simon C. Page}

qualifies for the Once Upon a Time Challenge

2 Comments Add yours

  1. Carl V. says:

    Tori and I both wanted to see this one on the big screen but we just never got around to it. We will have to all snag it on DVD as a family and watch it. I don’t think we’ve seen one of this studio’s films yet that we weren’t enchanted with in one way or the other and this one looked very sweet from the film’s trailers. I haven’t read the book, though am somewhat familiar with the story.

  2. I thought this one was a lot of fun, especially the way they imagined the world of the Borrowers–such a great job bringing it all to life. The fact that I liked this movie at all is kind of amazing, since The Borrowers series is a childhood favorite, which only sets me up to be disappointed…but I wasn’t!

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