It’s certainly been a while since the last Ghibli film, Ponyo on a Cliff by the Sea. Somewhere between chaotic works and absurd life, I stopped anticipating another Ghibli film despite the fact that I am such a huge fan. Late last night, I watched The Borrower Arrietty. Lots of fond memories were brought back to me, along with glimpses of the long forgotten magic.
Adapted from Marry Norton’s The Borrowers, this 2010 entry from Studio Ghibli tells the story from the views of little people living under our floorboards. Arrietty is one of these borrowers. She lives with her parents in the tiny house built from a pile of bricks right under Sadako’s house. The borrowers only take small things from the house and remain unnoticed. The situation gets complicated when Sho, a sickly 12-year-old nephew of Sadako, moves into the house. Through series of accidents, Sho knows of Arrietty’s existence and unintentionally puts Arrietty’s family in danger (from the elderly house maid, no less).
The Borrower Arrietty is not directed by Ghibli icons like Miyazaki or Takahata but this anime seems to try quite hard to look as if it is. The character design and the art works are reminiscent of previous Ghibli flicks like Howl’s Moving Castle, Kiki’s Delivery Service or Only Yesterday. Like most of its predecessors, the anime pays incredible attention to details. The sequence in which Arrietty and her father set out into the house to ‘borrow’ things from the big folk magnificently showcase the beautiful details of all the tiny and trivial things we usually overlook. I was amazed by how the apparently normal house was turned into totally magical place. The anime successfully brought me into that world and I already loved it even before the real story took off. This welcoming quality is always present at some extent in Ghibli films and this one is no exception.
In my opinion, I think studio Ghibli films always talk about something big yet surreal and display them in easily accessible forms. Among most obvious examples are Totoro as spirit of the forest or the river god in Spirited Away. The Borrower Arrietty also talks about big universal subjects like the value of the things we usually take for granted or oppressive/arrogant nature of human. But this anime uses different tactic. Instead of materializing the subject, it utilizes the change in perspectives and tells the story in an upward angle. I found that quite refreshing.
One can easily blame the nature of the source material. The story only revolves around one lonely house. Arrietty does not take me into new wondrous worlds like other Ghibli films did. The same thing also happens to the two main lead characters. They literally stay home for the entire movie. I felt like the real adventure actually started when Arrietty and her parents sailed from their old home with Spiller (which, unfortunately, was when the end credit rolled). If you may recall, all Studio Ghibli films are all about journey to some place. Even the most modest title like Only Yesterday took us to the countryside. The Borrower Arrietty didn’t do that despite its endeavor to fit into the pack.
With that said, I know that I am not being completely fair and keep comparing Arrietty with other films by Studio Ghibli. With all honesty, The Borrower Arrietty is nothing less than a really good piece of anime. It is incredibly humble and shy yet very thoughtful and reasonably serious. It tells us how precious all the trivial things can be when we look at them from the right perspective. Like other Ghibli films, it reminds us that hope always remains and life is beautiful despite all the hardships.
Conclusion: The Borrower Arrietty may not be as bold or as ambitious as I hoped but it is nevertheless a welcoming addition to the long and prosperous list of Ghibli films. Oh, did I mention that there was a fat cat in this anime? I love cats, especially fat ones.
Title: The Borrower Arrietty
Release date: July 17, 2010
Running Time: 94 minutes
Director: Hiromasa Yonebayashi
Animated by: Studio Ghibli