Wanderers, you’ve got me again for our GUST review this issue, and guess what I’m going to review? It’s my third anime offering, and this time it’s The Secret World of Arrietty, more commonly known as Arrietty. This is the gorgeous Studio Ghibli adaptation of Mary Norton’s beautiful story The Borrowers, directed by Hiromasa Yonebayashi and scripted by Hayao Miyazaki and Keiko Niwa. Studio Ghibli announced the film in late 2009 with Yonebayashi making his directorial debut as the youngest director of a Ghibli film. Miyazaki supervised the production as a developing planner. Cécile Corbel wrote the film’s score as well as its theme song.
Arrietty and her family (known as the Clock family) are the last of the Borrower families living in the big house they’ve secretly made their communal home – the others have either left or been killed by the house cat. For years, the house has been home only to an old woman (Jessica) and her maid, but suddenly a young boy (Shawn) arrives to stay for the summer. When Shawn arrives at the house on the first day, he sees the cat, Nina, trying to attack something in the bushes but she soon gives up after she is attacked by a crow. Shawn then discovers Arrietty emerging from the bushes and returning to her home through an underground air vent.
Later at night, Arrietty’s father, Pod, takes Arrietty on her first “borrowing” mission above the floorboards. After obtaining a sugar cube from the kitchen, they walk within a wall to reach a beautifully intricate dollhouse (with working electric lights and kitchen utilities) in Shawn’s bedroom, to get tissue. However, Arrietty is spotted by Shawn while retrieving a piece of tissue from a tissue box and loses the sugar cube.
The next day, Shawn leaves the dropped sugar cube beside the underground air vent where he first saw Arrietty. Pod warns Arrietty not to take it because their existence must be kept secret from humans, but his daughter nevertheless sneaks out to visit Shawn in his bedroom. She drops the sugar cube he left on the floor, letting him know that she is there. Without revealing herself otherwise, she tells Shawn to leave her family alone and that they do not need his help. On her return, Arrietty is intercepted by her father. Realising they have been detected, Pod and his wife Homily decide that they must move out of the house. Shawn learns from Jessica that some of his ancestors had seen Borrowers in the house, and had the dollhouse custom-built in the hopes that Borrowers would use it. The Borrowers had not been seen since, however, and the dollhouse stayed in Shawn’s room.
Pod returns injured from a borrowing mission and is helped home by Spiller, a Borrower boy he met on the way. He informs them that there are other places the Borrowers could move to. While Pod is recovering, Shawn removes the floorboard concealing the Borrower household and replaces their kitchen with the kitchen from the dollhouse, in hopes the Borrowers would be more accepting of his knowledge of their existence. However, the Borrowers are frightened by this and instead speed up their moving process.
After Pod recovers, he goes to explore some of the places Spiller has suggested. Arrietty goes to bid farewell to Shawn, but in the course of conversation he suggests to her that the Borrowers are becoming extinct. Realising that he has upset his small friend, Shawn reveals he has had a heart condition since birth and will have an operation in a few days. The operation does not have a good chance of success. He believes that there is nothing he can do about it, saying that eventually every living thing dies. Arrietty convinces Shawn that he can fight for the life he has now nevertheless.
The Borrowers stop for dinner during their move, and Nina spots Arrietty. She leads Shawn to Arrietty, who gives her a sugar cube, and tells her the Borrowers’ fight for survival has given him hope to live through the operation. Arrietty gives Shawn her hair clip as a token of remembrance and they go their separate ways, but this is by no means the end of their adventure.
Oh, Wanderers, this film is well worth a watch. It’s a generally gentle film, with themes of familial love, sacrifice, and acceptance of life and death as part of the natural order of the world. Despite this, I’d advise caution with young children, as there are some distressing scenes which may disturb sensitive viewers.
Although beautiful, the film doesn’t do the book justice; I’d recommend experiencing both to get the full immersion in the world of the Borrowers.
So why would I ask you to watch The Secret World of Arrietty? Because it’s gorgeous. And because sometimes it’s good to see the world from a different perspective.
Hannah Carter (is off to have a good cry)