The Secret World of Arrietty (2010)

One magical summer, I met Hayao Miyazaki and entered the strange universe of Studio Ghibli. I remember listening to Eandra play the theme of Howl’s Moving Castle and being convinced to watch the movie, which soon prompted me to unearth more. I wept over Grave of the Fireflies, laughed through My Neighbors the Yamadas, and marveled at the mysterious worlds of Ponyo and Nausicaä. For a year I awaited Studio Ghibli’s next film, then titled The Borrower Arrietty.

The movie centers on Arrietty, an adventurous girl born to a family of borrowers—little people who live under the floorboards and “borrow” from humans the things they need for survival. She knows that this peaceful co-existence hinges on one very important tenet: that the borrowers remain undiscovered by humans, whom they perceive as cruel and dangerous. But one day a frail boy named Sho arrives at the house and strikes up a friendship with Arrietty, transforming her understanding of humans but also endangering her family’s existence.

A legend among anime fans, Hayao Miyazaki is a name that has become inseparable from Studio Ghibli. He serves as the production planner for Arrietty; animator Hiromasa Yonebayashi takes on the director’s role. Even after repeated viewings, Ghibli’s animation does not disappoint. There is always something new to admire in each film. In Arrietty we find a strong emphasis on detail highlighting relative properties: short distances become chasms, a clock’s ticking is amplified to insistent banging, and tea flows out of a pot in gigantic drops. This magnified scale imbues house interiors with a sense of newness, inciting wonder at what we deem ordinary—this I consider the film’s chief achievement.

Content-wise, what I liked most is the subtle dynamics of Sho and Arrietty’s relationship. Neither character overwhelms the other; they are equal in their weakness. I especially appreciated how Sho did not presume to solve the borrowers’ lodging problem, even though it was well within his capacity to do so. That struck me as the ultimate sign of respect. Because of this, I am prompted to deem the film’s few didactic lapses forgivable.

While Arrietty holds none of the exuberance of Spirited Away (my favorite), it possesses the same qualities that made the latter such a success. Charming and splendidly uplifting, this movie shows that it doesn’t take all that much to bridge two worlds. Sometimes, all you need is a cube of sugar.

‘We’ll make do, we always have. You don’t know anything about us!’

‘You protected me after all. I hope you have the best life ever. Goodbye.’

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