The Secret World of Arrietty Review: Rich detail and great characters create one of Ghibli’s best
This year’s Studio Ghibli Fest finally takes fans to The Secret World of Arrietty – the directorial debut of Hiromasa Yonebayashi. It’s always interesting to see a film from Ghibli that’s not directed by Hayao Miyazaki or Isao Takahata, even though Miyazaki is pens the script along with Keiko Niwa, as it allows for a different vision to be shown under the Ghibli name. Frankly, while I’ve heard and seen some parts of Arrietty when I was younger, I’ve never had too much interest in seeing it. However, now that I have, it’s surprising a new favorite of mine from the studio.
The film, based on the book, The Borrowers, by Mary Norton, follows a family of Borrowers, four-inch tall people that live within the nooks and crannies of any house they can find. For years the Clock family has been hiding within an old home taking small, incidental, items in order for survival and staying out of the watchful eyes of the homeowners. However, when a sick, young boy, named Shou (voiced by Ryunosuke Kamiki), comes into the house and sees the family’s youngest member, Arrietty (voiced bu Mirai Shida), their lives completely change.
Arrietty is one of the most uniquely detailed animated films from Studio Ghibli – in both sight and sound. By mostly showing this world from Arrietty’s perspective, there’s a lot of ambitious moments of animation and vivid detail that goes into the building the world. From showing how Arrietty and her family move around the house by using nails as steps and using small tools to maneuver throughout the house to small interactions with bugs and other wildlife, there’s a lot of great detail that allows viewers to get sucked into Arrietty’s world. Not to mention, all of the movement and great visuals are matched with great sound design that brings each scene to life. Every time she pulled out her pin and it matched with the sound effect of a sword being unsheathed, I couldn’t help but crack a smile. It’s the kind of sound work and animation that’s rarely seen and creates a perfectly fantastical world for viewers to follow Arrietty in her adventures.
The story stays pretty simple for the most part with Arrietty and Shou developing a strong friendship and understanding for one another. Their conversations and interactions both allow for the human and Borrower worlds to collide and for some of the more mature themes to come out. With Shou having a heart condition that gives him a short lifespan, there’s an interesting, ableit short, discussion on life and death. Not to mention, Arrietty perfectly fits with Ghibli’s strong desire to create more courageous female leads with her deep sense of adventure and care that stems directly from Miyazaki and Niwa’s writing as well as Shida’s strong voice performance. Honestly, this is the first time I’ve seen a subbed version of a Ghibli film, as I usually see them dubbed, and I should see them subbed more often. There’s just an authenticity that comes from the Japanese dialogue that makes the characters’ personalities so much stronger.
My only real complaints with Arrietty come from how Haru’s (voiced by Kirin Kiki) obsession with the Borrowers isn’t touched upon much and how the film ends. While Haru is definitely an interesting character and provides some fun comedic relief, her obsession with the Borrowers isn’t ever explained and doesn’t have much purpose to it. For instance, what was her plan when she captured Arrietty’s family? Arrietty also ends in a way that other Ghibli films do that I’m not a big fan of. Having the final moments of the film be displayed through the credits really breaks the momentum of the film and offers very little resolution to occur. It’s admirable for these films to give viewers a reason to stay through the credits, but it’s at the expense of a strong and satisfying ending.
Arrietty is another strong showing of why Ghibli is always going to be a dominant name in animation and is easily one of the most vividly detailed films in the studio’s filmography. Thankfully, Yonebayashi has gone on to direct more films, including When Marnie Was There and one of the short film’s in Modest Heroes, and hopefully he can continue to help make more films as wonderful as Arrietty.