The Secret World of Arrietty (2010)

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“Arrietty, you’re a part of me now. I’ll never forget you, ever.” – Sho (Shawn)

I have oh so many thoughts on this movie. Mostly good, but also just… blah. I never saw it in theaters but wanted to. Somehow, I never got around to it. But I bought it anyway, because it’s Miyazaki, right? Actually… no. It’s Studio Ghibli, and Miyazaki did help write it, but he did not direct it. That’s right – this is the first Ghibli movie I own that is NOT directed by the man himself.

I look at this as more of a bridge piece for Studio Ghibli. Miyazaki’s final movie as a director, The Wind Rises, is set for theaters in 2014 (it’s of course already been released in Japan). He’s stepping down from the studio he helped create, but to my understanding will still be helping write and animate movies. Enter Hiromasa Yonebayashi. He has been a key animator at Ghibli for years, and this movie is his directorial debut. I’m seeing this man as the one who will be handed the reins of Ghibli (other than Isao Takahata, who of course is important – he just hasn’t done many movies recently – although he’s doing Kaguya-hime next year, YAY!). I have to say I’m a bit worried, but if Miyazaki has faith in him (Yonebayashi IS set to direct Porco Rosso 2, and we know how personal that movie is for Miyazaki), then I do too. If this movie is all I have to judge him on, I have to say he’s on his way to greatness; He needs to learn a few things, and people are just going to have to get over that he’s not Miyazaki, but I foresee good things in this man’s future.

Arrietty is a movie with characters that, at least to me, were already well known: the borrowers. Originally a children’s novel published in 1952 and written by Mary Norton, it spawned four sequels, the latest being published in the 1980s. The stories all focused around a family of borrowers, or small, 6-inch tall people who live in the walls of houses and “borrow” items from the human beings in the house in which they live.

The movie follows not only the idea of the borrowers, but the general plot. The character names are also the same. Arrietty is a borrower, about 14 years old, who lives in a country house in Japan. Along with her father, Pod, and her mother, Homily, they stay out of sight and go “borrow” things that they need that the humans will not miss. In the movie, Arrietty goes out on her first night borrowing and is seen by Shawn, a human boy who has just arrived at the house (we learn he is there to relax before he undergoes operation for his heart). Arrietty feels strangely drawn to the boy, but her parents warn her that once a human sees a borrower, only trouble can ensue.

This proves to be true, not from Shawn, but from the woman who lives in the house (is she a landlord? housekeeper? I’m still kinda not sure). There are some adventures, Arrietty can’t stay away from Shawn, and a strange friendship begins. But it’s not enough. His curiosity and want to help them bring the lady on a mad dash for the little people, and eventually the family has to move from the house to a different one.

The plot is simple. There’s obviously more details, but you’d be better to just watch the movie than for me to explain them. The big thing with this movie is the characters and this world that the borrowers live in. I think that’s part of the reason the books were so popular and why people are so drawn to fantasy stories like this. It’s fun to see what types of things the borrowers use in their home. It’s fun to see how they get around inside the walls. A mouse or a cricket to them is a huge monster. A patch of grass is a jungle. It’s fun to see our world portrayed from a completely different perspective, and that’s one thing this movie does very well.

I wouldn’t have been done well, though, if the detail weren’t as it is. I have gone on and on about detail in Miyazaki movies. But oh dear sweet lord this movie takes the cake. The detail in this movie is AMAZING. Because everything in our world is essentially blown up, the animators didn’t leave anything to the imagination: we see the grains of the wood. We get that to Arrietty and her father, a harmless, light tissue is incredibly heavy and stiff. Every detail is as you would expect it to be if you took a magnifying glass to the things in your house. It’s incredible.

What’s also incredible is how the borrowers get around in this world. there’s contraptions set up inside the walls, with ropes, pulleys, stairs out of nails, etc. Pieces of wall move ever so slightly to allow them into a room. tiny cracks serve as doorways. Pod has knives that come out of his shoes to help him climb. They use pieces of tape (which look incredibly thick to them) to climb up cabinets. I think a lot of kids and adults can find themselves engrossed in this movie because how cool would it be to be a tiny person in a giant’s house??

The world of the borrowers is the real draw to this movie. The characters are… ok. The only one that is really developed is Arrietty, and honestly, she is so good it almost makes me sad that more characters didn’t get more developed in this movie. If they made her so awesome, it was in their ability to make the others awesome as well.

Arrietty is, to put it simply, a confident teenage girl who just wants to be treated like an adult, but at the same time respects her parents and understands the rules of their lives. At the same time, she’s incredibly curious. She’s just starting to experience this world that she lives in, and everything about it that she’s not seen before is so exciting she has to experience it NOW. She almost reminds me a bit of Kiki, but not so gung ho about work. She enjoys her life, and is fine with remaining a kid, but wants to go on the adventures with her father because that just seems to be her personality.

Her dealings with Shawn are very confusing, but at the same time, they are very real. She first realizes he saw her when she’s with her father getting a tissue, and she sees him in his bed with his eyes open and trained on her. She paralyzes with fear and drops the sugar cubes she had in her bag. The next day, he returns them on a stoop by where she enters and exits into the yard. You can feel the conflict within her whether to take them or not. She’s curious, but taking them would mean she’s admitting her existence as well as her trust in him. Her family tells her not taking them is what to do, and she doesn’t. It could have ended there. But Arrietty is so curious and drawn to this boy that she ends up scaling the house to his bedroom window to talk to him. A crow attacks, and he intervenes to save her.

This is almost when she understands that he’s not like the others. But it doesn’t mean that she’ll go full on into friendship with him. The entire movie, it’s still very stand-offish. They have this connection but you can’t get too close, because it’s a rule, and she respects that. Shawn does prove his worth, though, when he rescues her mother after getting caught, and allows them to travel to safety.

Arrietty is such a good, charming character that it makes me sad that Shawn isn’t. I understand why they didn’t develop him a ton: he’s sick, doesn’t have much energy, and is about to undergo an operation to his heart. He’s a kid that’s almost lost everything, and maybe i’m reading “lack of character” wrong. Maybe he’s depressed. Being in a new place with no friends going through what he’s about to go through can’t be easy, and meeting Arrietty almost gives him hope, as well as makes him realize that he can be important and helpful. I think the thing that bugs me about him is that his character is almost left up to the viewer’s ideas. We don’t really know much about him except for what I just said. He’s an ok character, but I feel as if there’s a lot to him we don’t know; the he could have been a bigger character and a better character and still not taken anything away from the focus of Arrietty. I almost would have liked them to get closer. We feel a connection, but it’s not as realized as I feel it could have been. It’s not the connection you get with other Ghibli movies.

the only other characters we get to know are Arrietty’s parents, Pod and Homily, the crazy woman who lives in the house, Hara, and another “savage” borrower who helps them escape, Spiller. Arrietty’s parents are pretty good. Voiced by Will Arnett and Amy Poehler, they’re secondary characters and work well. Pod is strong and silent, and Homily is a bit more animated and worried about safety and the human beings. As a couple, they balance each other out nicely. Hara is the woman who goes to all lengths to prove the borrower’s existence. She acts as our antagonist, and she is a bit crazy. It’s fun to watch them outsmart her. Spiller is a borrower that lives in the “wilds” and not in a house. He’s a man of few words, and acts as sort of?? a love interest? I don’t know, it’s almost as if he’s who Arrietty’s parents wish she’d spend time with. He’s barely in the movie so it’s a bit weird, but maybe they’re planning on making more of these. Dunno.

I know that this is just a movie that’s mainly for kids, and mainly just about showing us the world and showing us what happens to borrowers when they’re seen. I know it’s about that all human’s aren’t evil, but some are. But I don’t know… I finish watching this movie and I just feel…. eh. I feel like nothing happened. It was fun watching it, but I wanted more. I wanted more of the characters. I wanted more of Arrietty and Shawn. It ends, and it’s meant to be this sad goodbye between the two, and you just don’t feel it. I know she taught him not to be afraid, but I want to feel that he learned that. I want to feel that he’s going to miss her. You feel so much in other Ghibli movies. This one has the workings of one, but it’s missing the emotion. It’s missing something with the connection. And it kills me. Because this movie IS good… but it could have been great.

I have one more thing that REALLY bugs me. I don’t know why, but the US version randomly changed the names of some of the characters. Arrietty, Pod, Homily, and Spiller are fine. They’re from the book. But it’s almost like with the US dub, they wanted to try and set this in europe, NOT in Japan, when clearly, this is Japan. They changed the name of the boy from Sho to Shawn and Haru into Hara. WHY????? This is something that really bugs me. This is a JAPANESE movie. It’s SET IN JAPAN. WHY DID YOU CHANGE THE NAMES???? It’s not like people aren’t used to Japanese names from Ghibli: we have Chihiro, Haku, Sosuke, Ponyo, Satsuki, Ashitaka, etc. Seriously. Why the need to change the names Disney?? I actually get mad over this, because I feel like it’s not giving the movie the respect it deserves. It comes from an animation studio that rivals Disney itself and even Pixar. They know that these movies are great. Why mess with it and change something so trivial as names? just to make it more marketable? those aren’t even major characters. they (meaning those at Ghibli as well as Disney) didn’t touch the names of the major characters. Why change random supporting characters to more western sounding names? ugh. I’ll never understand. I think it’s stupid and pointless.

My rant is over, and I apologize. Arrietty is a movie I would say that is worth watching. Is it perfect? no. But you also have to remember it’s not Miyazaki. It’s hard not to compare, but different directors bring different things to movies. It’s still incredibly charming and introduces us to a world familiar but at the same time foreign. I hate to say it, but I almost hope we see more of the borrowers from Ghibli. I would love to see more of her and get more from her family. Definitely a good kid movie.

I give The Secret World of Arrietty (2010) a 3.2 out of 5. Charming, but has its flaws.

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This review wraps up my Ghibli/Miyazaki movies. I really had a blast watching these all again, and reviewing these were among my favorites to write about because they all have so much going for them. I’m hoping this is what my reviews will be like when I do Disney or Pixar. I’m an animation nerd and I’m not afraid to flaunt it.

At the beginning of my Miyazaki movies I ranked them how I thought I would with the reviews. I’m now going to rank them based on what I actually gave them score wise. This should be interesting.

1. Princess Mononoke & My Neighbor Totoro (5 out of 5)
2. Spirited Away (4.8 out of 5)
3. Porco Rosso (4.2 out of 5)
4. Castle in the Sky & Howl’s Moving Castle (4 out of 5)
5. Ponyo & Kiki’s Delivery Service (3.5 out of 5)
6. The Secret World of Arrietty & Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind (3.2 out of 5)

Not gonna lie, I’m surprised. Apparently I give the same score to lots of movies, but based on them, I actually agree with this, movie wise. Below is how I ranked them before I reviewed them, strictly on how I, personally, like them:

1. Princess Mononoke (1997)
2. Howl’s Moving Castle (2004)
3. Castle in the Sky (1986)
4. My Neighbor Totoro (1988)
5. Spirited Away (2001)
6. Porco Rosso (1992)
7. Ponyo (2008)
8. Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind (1984 – technically not Studio Ghibli)
9. The Secret World of Arriety (2010)
10. Kiki’s Delivery Service (1989)

Watch them if you haven’t. If you’ve never watched any Miyazaki movies or hate the idea of watching “anime,” please reconsider. I am not, by any means, an anime person. These movies are SO different. every one of them is worth watching the same way every pixar movie is worth watching.

Next I’ll be delving into my Christmas/Holiday movies for the season. And what better way to start than with a transitional movie!

Next up: The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993)

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