THE SECRET WORLD OF ARRIETTY
(Kari-Gurashi no Arietti)
Arrietty is based on The Borrowers books by British author Mary Norton. Norton began publishing with The Borrowers (1952). This led to four sequels The Borrowers Afield (1955), The Borrowers Afloat (1959), The Borrowers Aloft (1961) and The Borrowers Avenged (1982). The first film adaptation of these was The Borrowers (1973), a little seen tv movie for the Hallmark Hall of Fame that relocated the story to America and, although reasonably faithful, suffered from poor special effects. The second and best adaptation was The Borrowers (1993-4), two sets of six-part half-hour British-made tv serials for the BBC that covered the first four books. These were very faithful to the books, featured modest but excellent effects and proved a considerable delight. There was also the big-budget film adaptation The Borrowers (1997), which pitched the stories for American audiences but turned them into a special-effects driven comedy vehicle. Subsequent to this, there was also The Borrowers (2011), a BBC tv movie version starring Christopher Eccleston.
Arrietty is a loose adaptation of The Borrowers. All the essential elements of the first Mary Norton book are there Arrietty going out into the world to become a borrower for the first time, her friendship with a human bean boy who is ill (recovering from rheumatic fever in the book, a heart condition here), his bringing pieces of a dollhouse as gifts for them, the belief that they are the last borrowers left in the world, the maid (his caregiver in the film) discovering the borrowers home and determining to catch them. The script also mixes some aspects from other books taking the character of Spiller from The Borrowers Afield, for instance, and at the end having them set off on the tea kettle journey from The Borrowers Afloat.
Arrietty is essentially the very British world of Mary Nortons books, which took place in an archetypal English country garden, translated into the world of shoujo anime, something that proves surprisingly conducive when you think about it. Hiromasa Yonebayashi states that while directing Arrietty he asked Hayao Miyazaki for advice every step of the way. It is no surprise then that the finished film could easily be a Miyazaki film in all respects. It is directed in the same ligne clair style that Hayao Miyazaki has preferred. Hiromasa Yonebayashi adopts the same intimately quiet and contemplative style that Miyazaki does, always concerned about harmony with nature. In particular, the home and its garden filled with magical creatures feels as though it could be next door to the same home where My Neighbor Totoro took place. Indeed, the character of Sho, ill and feeling sadly distant from his parents but discovering something magical hidden in the garden, is very much a variation of the children in My Neighbor Totoro, which Hayao Miyazaki always said was a story about his own childhood.
There is a considerable magic to Arrietty. It never quite ranks up there with some of Hayao Miyazakis masterworks such as My Neighbor Totoro, Kikis Delivery Service, Princess Mononoke or Spirited Away more at the level of perfectly excellent second rung efforts such as The Castle of Cagliostro, Porco Rosso or Howls Moving Castle. Arriettys first journey down into the house is a marvellously fear and awe-fraught journey walking along the nails in the wainscoting, a system of pulleys being used to whisk them up into the darkness, the vast dark chasm of the pantry and the father painstakingly journeying up the sides of the furniture with sticky tape attached to his arms and legs, the journey through the exquisitely set world of the dollhouse into the bedroom of Sho to steal a tissue where he wakes up and whispers to them not to be afraid as they flee, dropping the all-essential sugar cube. There is another magical scene set in the borrowers home where the walls shake like an earthquake, the roof is lifted off and then suddenly a giant hand deposits the kitchen from the dolls house. The friendship that grows between Arrietty and Sho comes with all the tender loveliness and soft intimacy that Studio Ghibli do so well. The results are quite magical and lovely.
Hiromasa Yonebayashi subsequently went onto direct the ghost story When Marnie Was There (2014) for Studio Ghibli, followed by Mary and the Witchs Flower (2017).