Anime Review: The Secret World of Arrietty Movie

Anime Review:
The Secret World of Arrietty Movie

What this is about: Watching all of the anime shows so you don’t have to! For more information about me and my reviews, click here for details on what I am reviewing.

Series Premise: The Secret World of Arrietty is the English language theatrical release name for Karigurashi no Arrietty, or “The Borrower Arrietty”, a feature-length movie release from Studio Ghibli released in Japan in July 2010, and became the highest grossing film in Japan for 2010. The English-dubbed version was released in theaters in the United Kingdom in 2011, and will appear in the United States in February 2012. Based on a 1950’s children’s book series by Mary Norton, the story follows the Clock Family, including the young daughter Arrietty, who are four-inch-tall people who “borrow” small things from humans to survive, trying to hide their existence.

Click on the thumbnails below to view the picture in full size in a new window:

ep. tl;dr review: Miniature-sized Arrietty reluctantly befriends sickly human boy, learns not all humans are evil creatures.

Spoiler-free Movie Set-up: Sho is traveling to the secluded countryside to stay with his aunt while he rests before he has to undergo a major medical operation. Unknown to him, the old house has for generations also been the home to the Clock Family: Pod, Homily, and fourteen-year-old Arrietty. They are “Borrowers”, four-inch-high people who keep their existence a secret from humanity, “borrowing” small items to survive. Along with her father, Arrietty goes on her first “hunt” in the dead of night, entering the household to borrow a sugar cube and a piece of tissue. However, in the process Arrietty is seen by Sho, and she is devastated. Upon returning to their secret home in the basement, Pod explains they may now have to move, now that they’ve been seen. But Arrietty soon learns that Sho does not intend any harm, and reaches out to her with a gift of a sugar cube as an act of contrition. The elderly housekeeper, however, becomes increasingly suspicious and hopes to solve the mystery of her “missing items” once and for all.

My Impressions: Unlike most anime fans, I am not a member of the Cult of Miyazaki where I blindly accept everything he has done as a masterpiece of animation. Sure, he is definitely one most important figures in Japanese anime ever, and he has crafted some of the best films of all time. But not everything that bears his name is made of solid gold. His body of work runs the gamut between “Brilliant” to “Just Okay”…so where does Arrietty fall?

Well, as far as I’m concerned, somewhere in the middle. It is worth noting that this is not an original Miyazaki concept, but adapted from an English children’s book from several decades ago (which I will readily admit I never heard of before this). Furthermore, Miyazaki only co-wrote the story; the film was actually directed by Hiromasa Yonebayashi, and this is his directorial debut. He has been an integral part of Studio Ghibli for years, though, and I’m sure that Miyazaki still had a heavy hand in the production.

As with most Ghibli films, the detail and the artwork is breathtaking and wonderful. In fact, the first twenty minutes are spent mostly following Arrietty around as she happily pounces around the verdant, lush underbrush to her cozy house, then sneaking in to the human kitchen and bedroom at night, with lots of moments when the camera slowly pans across the expansive background. And even though very little is happening, it doesn’t feel like twenty minutes at all because you’re just transfixed to the screen drinking it all in.

As for the story itself: From what I could read from the synopsis of the original story, the movie bears little resemblance. It uses the same characters and concept, but moving the setting to rural Japan and the events develop differently, which is fine by me. The plot is very simple…frankly *too* simple. In the end, it felt more like a half-hour story stretched thin over an hour and a half. It’s all very beautiful to look at, but not a whole lot of substance to grab onto.

Mostly it’s about the forbidden relationship between Sho and Arrietty. He desperately wants to make a friend, yet Arrietty has been told her entire life that Borrowers must “never be seen”. She is torn between her gut feeling that Sho’s intentions are good, and her parent’s stern words. The villain of the movie is played by the housekeeper — not a bad or evil woman, just someone who wants to get rid of the pests that have been stealing from the house for years. I don’t want to spoil the story, but Arrietty finds that she has no choice but to turn to Sho for help when her family is in danger. Ultimately it’s a small story, all taking place around the house with maybe six people who have any significant role in the film. Just a little vignette, somewhat of a departure from many of the other Miyazaki films which have world-changing implications.

Where I was most impressed was the attention to detail involving the miniature world. You have the Borrowers handling everyday objects (such as Arrietty’s pin-sword), and the physics of water blooping in huge drops from the teakettle, postage stamps as wall artwork, the hidden passageways between the walls. It’s such a fun world that I’d like to see more.

The verdict:

FINAL GRADE: B+ (Note: All completed series and feature-length movies receive a final letter grade) This is not the most amazing Miyazaki film, but that’s okay, it doesn’t have to be (not everything can be “the best ever”). Instead, it’s just a pleasant movie to watch, sit back and enjoy the amazing artwork and animation. Overall, the movie itself has been quite well received, with an amazing 100% “Fresh” rating on Rotten Tomatoes (with 20 Pro reviews), and a 7.7 out of 10 user rating on IMDB.


For more information:

Sampling of Online Reviews:

  • “It’s a gentle and entrancing tale, deeper and richer than more instantly gratifying fare. Think of it as the slow food of the animation world. Grade: 4/5.” – The Guardian Newspaper
  • “But mostly, Arrietty is simply gorgeous, embracing the ravishing colour of garden flowers, wildly sprouting vines, the perfection of a raindrop on a leaf…Children will enjoy the borrowers’ thrilling forays into the house in search of sustenance; adults can wallow in the exquisite detail of the interior and leafy surroundings. Animation simply doesn’t get any better than Ghibli’s ravishing creation: when you have this much talent, who needs 3D? Grade: 4/5.” – The Telegraph Newspaper
  • “Oh heck, Studio Ghibli did it again. With this, they created yet another must-watch for all ages. If you like family movies, it really is a must-watch. Grade: 85/100.” – Star Crossed Anime Blog
  • “The Borrower Arrietty is indeed a joy to watch; if not for the imaginative story, then at least for the stunning animation and superb music.” – Forever Geek
  • “On the whole, Arrietty is a relatively light, breezy film – it does not have the weight of the grander fantasies like Laputa or Mononoke nor should you expect it to. What it does have is a trace of the gentle magic of Totoro, that certain Ghibli character which is difficult to express but easy to recognize. Grade: 3.5/5.” – Omohide
  • “Although beautifully rendered throughout, with delicate, elegantly drawn watercolor-like illustrations, the pic may seem too plain and simple for the oversophisticated tastes of kids in Europe and North America, while Arrietty herself reps a slightly insipid heroine.” – Variety
  • “What’s remarkable, then, is how fresh this is. Miyazaki hands directorial duties to long-term animator Hiromasa Yonebayashi, who focuses firmly on the eponymous teen heroine, a novice Borrower beguiled by the ‘human beans’, inverting traditional Ghibli logic. Where Miyazaki gazes out upon a strange new universe, Arrietty looks in and finds everyday bric-a-brac just as wondrous. Grade: 4/5.” – Total Film
  • “I know that I am not being completely fair and keep comparing Arrietty with other films by Studio Ghibli. With all honesty, The Borrower Arrietty is nothing less than a really good piece of anime. It is incredibly humble and shy yet very thoughtful and reasonably serious. It tells us how precious all the trivial things can be when we look at them from the right perspective. Like other Ghibli films, it reminds us that hope always remains and life is beautiful despite all the hardships. Grade: B+.” – Canne’s Anime Blog
  • “Any Ghibli film is naturally going to subject to the discussion of where it ranks in the catalogue. I’ll leave that to others for the most part, but it’s probably fair to say it ranks as among the best of the studio’s works not directed by Miyazaki or co-founder Isao Takahata.” – Lost in America
  • “My one small criticism is that the moral message, also a staple of Ghibli films, is veritably flung in the face of the viewer in Arrietty instead of the more subtle story-weaving shown in earlier works Princess Mononoke and Spirited Away. But ultimately, Arrietty is a joyous depiction of an unlikely friendship. I left Arrietty feeling happy and full of light. Watch this film. Grade: 8.5/10.” – Live for Films

Miscellaneous Odds and Ends from before 2011 left to review: Out of Sight Special, YanYan Machiko Episode 1, Tachumaru Episode 1, Naruto Movie: The Lost Tower, Naruto to Machin to Mitsu no Onegai Dattebayo Special, Major OVA: Message, You are Umasou Movie, Armored Trooper Votoms: Case;Irvine, Heartcatch Precure Movie, Senkou no Night Raid Special: Devil in the Opium Den, Pokemon: Best Wishes Episode 1, Dragonball Super Saiyan-jin Zetsumetsu Kaikaku, Armored Trooper Votoms: Finder

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One Response to Anime Review: The Secret World of Arrietty Movie

  1. Pingback: Anime Review: Where Things Stand as of October 7, 2011 | This Euphoria!

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