Japanese Title: Karigurashi no Arrietti
Similar: Spirited Away
Into the Forest of Fireflies’ Light
Watched in: Japanese & English
Genre: Contemporary Fantasy
Length: 1 hr. 34 min. movie
- Colourful, storybook art and animation.
- How the Borrowers live and use small items.
- Builds up to nothing.
- Doesn’t explore its world.
- Boring and forgettable.
- Feels cut short.
When I sit down to watch a Studio Ghibli film, I never worry about whether I will get a good film. I used to think the same about Disney – that was until I realised my father had only showed me good Disney animations. The Secret World of Arrietty burst the bubble for me with Studio Ghibli.
For rest and recovery, young boy Shou stays with his aunt in the countryside, where his mother had told stories of little people living in the walls. These little people are ‘Borrowers,’ for they “borrow” supplies and small items from the house, such as sugar cubes, sticky tape, and string. During their excursion for supplies one night, Shou sees one of these little people. She is Arrietty, daughter of the Borrowers who dwell there. Her father fears for their safety and warns they must move house if discovered. Shou, who has always wanted to meet Borrowers, seeks her again and she too wants to meet, driven by curiosity.
This is a fine setup. I love the little people in a big world story types like The Smurfs and Brambly Hedge. During the first excursion, I thought I was in for another wonder of this genre. They captured the sense of perspective and scale, in particular due to audio – the ordinary noises from our world sound ominous and threatening from the Borrowers’ perspective. The use of small objects was also great; I loved the sticky tape working like suction cups for wall climbing.
The first act does everything right in establishing the world and Borrower life, but after that, nothing interesting happens, nothing new adds to the world. The core problem lies with the lack of an antagonist. For a moment, one thinks the housekeeper plays antagonist, intent on finding the little thieves; however, she only does one thing of import, which is resolved easily anyway. If she’s supposed to be the villain, she is the weakest villain ever.
Then I thought the environment might play antagonist – girl against nature. But no, even that only happens once when a crow tries to eat Arrietty. As for the threat of discovery conflict, it too is weak, for it’s not as big a deal as they make it seem.
There is so little to The Secret World of Arrietty. It has no real story, no substance, the conflict basic and unchallenging to the end. When the credits rolled, I thought I had only seen the start of a story that promised more, a much bigger world. Not sure how no one saw the draft and realised it had no substance. A fifteen-minute short film illustrating the Borrower world would have conveyed all the best parts.
The Secret World of Arrietty is ultimately the most forgettable and boring of Studio Ghibli’s works I have seen.
Art – Very high
A colourful palette, attention to detail, and imaginative sense of perspective bring this anime to life. Beautiful to look at regardless of story.
Sound – Medium
The Japanese acting is fine for this dull script, whereas one can ‘hear the acting’ in the dub – surprising after other Ghibli dubs. Save for a few tracks, the music is forgettable, though this may be from the forgettable events. The amplified sound effects from the tiny perspective are great.
Story – Low
Little people called Borrowers live in the walls of a human house, risking exposure when a young boy sees one of them. A solid first act wanes into nothing.
Overall Quality – Medium
Recommendation: Skip it. Unless you seek to experience the whole Ghibli collection, I can’t think of a reason to watch The Secret World of Arrietty. Try Brambly Hedge (not anime) instead if the concept interests you.
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