Anime Review: Arrietty (2010)

TL;DR – a journey into the lives of the Borrowers, tiny humans that seek to survive in a world where practically every other creature is a predator including adult sized humans.

Review (warning: spoilers)

What are the things we take for granted? Do we appreciate what we have? These are the questions that are examined by plunging you into the world of Arrietty, a hand-sized girl who lives with her equally tiny parents. Collectively, these miniature individuals are known as Borrowers.

Through Arrietty’s eyes we gain a perspective of what the world would be like when you’re four-inches nothing tall. The challenge of taking a tissue from a tissue box, securing a sugar cube, and ‘borrowing’ other items in a human household. How one can survive when you can be squashed like an ant or carried away by a crow are all real dangers captured in this film.

While a Studio Ghibli production, Arrietty was not directed by the legendary Hayao Miyzaki. Instead, this was the directional debut for Hiromasa Yonebayashi (Miyazaki was involved in the screenplay adapted from the children’s book, The Borrowers by English author, Mary Norton). A visual gem of a film, both adults and children alike will wonder at the beauty, colour and detail of every frame, and it should ensure that when you place your head on your pillow, you will dream wonderful dreams of tiny adventurers.

The story is simple and aimed at children. A boy, Shō, visits his mother’s home. He has some sort of health condition that causes him to be bedridden most of the time, and he witnesses Arrietty trying to take a tissue, which startles her and causes her to drop the sugar cube she is carrying. Arrietty’s father, Pod, helps her escape back to their underground home even though Shō had no intention of harming them.

The same can’t be said for the housemaid, Haru, who has heard legend of the Borrowers and ends up capturing Arrietty’s mother, Homily, by placing her in a jar. Through Shō’s help, they rescue Homily and eventually escape in a teapot that floats down a rivulet (that to Arrietty and her family is like a river). Shō gives Arrietty a sugar cube and expresses how much having met her means to him. He sees in her this immense courage and realises he, too, will seek to overcome his illness and be stronger also.

The magic in the film are the interactions between the human sized characters and the Borrowers. At one point, Arrietty discovers a doll house that was made by Shō’s ancestors who believed in the Borrowers’ existence and built the house for their use. Shō attempts to place the kitchen from the doll house into Arrietty’s home but causes quite a bit of destruction and triggers Arrietty’s parents to say they have to leave. The sequence of Shō’s hand placing the kitchen into their tiny home is a brilliant sequence of animation.

In the end though, it does lack the layers of other Ghibli films that will draw adults in. Being a children’s story, it doesn’t compare to the more epic and adult themed films such as Princess Mononoke, Spirited Away and Laputa: Castle in the Sky. It is more akin to Tonari no Totoro and Ponyo but for all its beauty, Arrietty lacks a certain something. There is a magic and mystery in Tonari no Totoro and Ponyo that is missing in Arrietty. Call it Miyazaki magic but his direction seems to elevate these films to greater heights (both Totoro and Ponyo were directed by Miyazaki). Yonebayashi does an admirable job, but it is not quite the same.

7.5 out of 10

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