Hello everybody, this week I’m kicking off a new recurring review segment to go along with my Nippon Manga Rebyu called Anime Eiga Rebyu, which, despite the title isn’t exclusive to just anime, rather it will encompass animated films in general, whether they originate from Japan or not. It just so happens that the inaugural subject is from Japan, however.
This past weekend Disney finally released their English dubbing of Studio Ghibli’s 2010 adaptation of The Borrowers, The Borrower Arrietty, re-christening the film The Secret World of Arrietty for this release. That’s not all they changed, though, as they Westernized the names of every character that had a Japanese name in the original version of the film. While famed Studio Ghibli co-founder Hayao Miyazaki co-wrote the film, he handed directing duties to Hiromasa Yonebayashi, who makes his directing debut with The Secret World of Arrietty.
We begin the film with a 12-year old boy named Shawn, originally named Sho, being driven to the Japanese countryside to stay under the care of his Aunt Jessica, originally Sadako, and the caretaker of her home, Hara, originally Haru. When Jessica and Shawn arrive at the house, Shawn sees Jessica’s cat, Niya, trying to hunt something in a bush, but Niya is attacked by a crow and leaves.
Shawn notices something moving in the bush and catches a glimpse at a 4 inch tall 14-year old girl who is the titular Arrietty. She is a Borrower, a race of miniature people who “borrow”, a polite euphemism for stealing, items that they need to survive and that humans, who the Borrowers call human “beans”, won’t miss, such as cubes of sugar, pieces of tissue paper, crackers, cookies, etc.
Arrietty rushes back to her family’s home underneath the floorboards of the house with her catch of the day, two giant herb leaves and a beautiful flower. She gives the herb leaves to her mother Homily, who says they’ll last her a long time. That night, Arrietty’s father, Pod, takes Arrietty on her first Borrowing, the nightly hunt for supplies the Borrowers must undergo. Their targets on this Borrowing is a cube of sugar and a sheet of tissue paper.
After easily getting the sugar cube from the kitchen, Pod leads Arrietty through a passageway inside the walls that leads to a highly detailed dollhouse in the room Shawn is sleeping in. They try to grab one of the tissues from the box next to his bed, but Shawn is revealed to be wide awake and staring straight at Arrietty, breaking the cardinal rule of the Borrowing, Borrowers must not be seen by a human, to be seen means the Borrowers must move to a new home.
In their rush to head back to their home, Arrietty drops the sugar cube and Shawn tells Arrietty that they shouldn’t be afraid of him. The following day, Shawn leaves the sugar cube and a tiny note that reads, “You forgot something” next to an air vent that was near the bush he first saw Arrietty at the start of the film. Arrietty wants to retrieve it, but her parents tell her not to, as they fear it may be a trap.
Despite this, Arrietty sneaks out during the day and visits Shawn in his room and the two quickly become friends after Shawn saves her from a crow that tries to eat her. However, as she tries to sneak back home, Pod catches her inside the walls of Shawn’s room. With it now being confirmed that a human knows of their existence, Arrietty’s parents decide they need to move to a new location.
While talking about the dollhouse with Jessica and Hara, Shawn learns that his grandfather had seen Borrowers before and together with Shawn’s mother, they custom built the dollhouse for the Borrowers to live in. Quite literally as it turns out to have working lighting and a fully functional scale replica of the kitchen that’s in the house.
The next day, Pod comes limping back to the Borrowers’ home with the help of another Borrower who lives in the woods named Spiller, having sprained his ankle looking for routes they could take from the house. Shawn surprises the Borrowers by taking the roof off of their home and replacing their kitchen with the kitchen from the dollhouse, much to the initial horror and then shock of Homily.
Once Pod heals up, he goes to check out some places Spiller suggested they could move to. At the same time, Arrietty goes to say her goodbyes to Shawn. While they are having this conversation, back in the house, Hara finds one of the pots that belonged in the dollhouse kitchen on the stairs, and after some looking around, uncovers the home of the Borrowers, finding only Homily there. She catches Homily, and the rest of the film features Shawn and Arrietty trying to free Homily.
Without a shadow of a doubt, the greatest strength The Secret World of Arrietty has going for it is its visuals. The detailing and the depth in the art is astounding, resulting in the environments and objects looking incredibly realistic. The colors are bright and vibrant, and the relative size of objects next to the Borrowers creates an incredible juxtaposition between how humans and Borrowers see the world. What are ordinary everyday things to us, like staples, nails, and pins, become ladders, bridges, and weapons to the Borrowers, for example.
Another example is how liquids are seen from the perspective of the Borrowers. Liquids, such as rain drops and the tea the Borrowers drink, flow like giant globs of syrup. On top of that, the animation of the characters is the top notch standard we’ve come to expect out of Studio Ghibli. The Secret World of Arrietty is first and foremost a movie you should pay to see. Just looking at the film is worth whatever the price you pay for it.
The story is an interesting one for a Studio Ghibli film, being very slow paced, and in truth not much actually really happening. It is really, when you get down to it, just a tale of the day to day lives of the Borrowers and the humans they borrow from. It is certainly the most calm film to be made by Studio Ghibli yet.
Audio wise, the film has a somewhat sparse, but effective soundtrack that mixes both Japanese and Celtic-style music. The sound effects add onto the different perspective the Borrowers have of our world. The prime example of this being the kitchen scene during Arrietty’s first Borrowing. The ticking of a clock reverberates throughout the room, and the various other sounds in the kitchen create quite a cacophony. The voice acting is really well done, surprisingly so, even. I’ll be honest, I was not expecting much from Amy Poehler as Homily or Will Arnett as Pod, but they both managed to give really good performances. The same can be said for Disney live action actors Bridgit Mendler and David Henrie, who voice Arrietty and Shawn, respectively.
The Secret World of Arrietty was a film that Hayao Miyazaki and Isao Takahata had been contemplating making for roughly 40 years. Was it worth such a long wait? I will say yes, yes it was. Visually, it is the best work I’ve seen to come out of Studio Ghibli, the audio is up there with the other Ghibli films, and while the story isn’t the usual magical epic we’ve come to expect from Miyazaki, that isn’t a bad thing. Sometimes it is good to just sit back and have a calming slice of life story.
We start Anime Eiga Rebyu off strong, as I think The Secret World of Arrietty is deserving of being in the same class as Studio Ghibli films like Princess Mononoke and Spirited Away, a timeless classic that anyone who loves animation should see at least once in their life. And, it is most certainly the best film Studio Ghibli has released since Spirited Away.
You can view the trailer for the movie below.