I just got back from watching Studio Ghibli’s newest animated feature 『借りぐらしのアリエッティ』. In English, the title translates to “The Borrower Arrietty” and is based on a classic of British children’s fantasy literature: Mary Norton’s 1952 novel “The Borrowers.” Having never read the books, I have very little to say about how the world created by Studio Ghibli compares, but I don’t think anyone should really do that to begin with.
Unlike many of Ghibli’s films in which there is full-bore fantasy, magical powers, mythical beasts and all the rest, “Arietty” takes place in present-day Japan in which no one but birds can fly – including one really annoying crow. Even though 14-year-old Arietty and her parents stand no more than 10 cm tall, their lives are ordinary in every other respect – minus the whole sneaking around and borrowing things like sugar cubes and tissues.
Living under the floorboards of a house in the Tokyo suburbs inhabited by the elderly Sadoko and her wizened housekeeper Haru, they “borrow” everything they need to live from their human hosts, in amounts so small they are barely noticed.
Pod (Arietty’s father) is a sturdy, stoic, resourceful sort who carries out his nighttime “borrowing” missions like a veteran mountain climber, methodically scaling the heights of the kitchen with a fishing hook and string. He is also handy with tools, making everything the family needs for its survival and comfort, though the worry-wart Homily is constantly fretting about the threats all around them — the most dangerous being discovery by their human hosts. The slender but athletic Arietty is more her father’s child than her mother’s, fearlessly exploring the house and its lush garden while fending off Sadoko’s fat cat, a pesky crow and a variety of insects. Then she is spotted by Sho, Sadoko’s sensitive, sickly 12-year-old nephew, who is resting up for a heart operation at a Tokyo hospital.
Instead of retreating into the shadows, however, she is drawn to this human, who sympathizes with her situation and understands her isolation. Their unusual friendship, however, leads to potentially disastrous consequences. With the loss of their little paradise looming, Pod begins to talk about moving to parts unknown…
This film had a little bit of Nausica, a little bit of Totoro, and a little bit of Kiki’s Delivery Service in it. The scenery was very much like that seen in Totoro and was beautiful to look at. The home that Arietty and her family made under the floorboards was breathtaking down to every last detail. One of my favorite details were the pictures used on the windows to create the illusion that the family was looking at the sea at different times of the day. Arietty herself reminded me a lot of Nausica’s character – it is always nice to see a strong female protagonist. The story itself, while not really being that strong, reminded me of Kiki’s story where we are not watching some high action paced thriller, but rather how people live their lives from day to day with a few little adventures thrown in here and there. It is a simply told, beautifully animated delight that, like the best Ghibli films, speaks straight to the heart and imagination of the child in all of us.
I am not sure when this film will make it to screens in America, or other countries for that matter, but it was a joy to watch. While it is by no means my favorite Studio Ghibli film (hard to beat Nausica) it is definitely higher up on my list than I expected it would be. Even if you are not familiar with Studio Ghibli’s film, you should see this (and get yourself familiar with all the studio’s films because you are really missing out!).