I just watched The Borrower Arrietty, and it pretty much instantly became one of my favorite animated films. The concept of tiny creatures living alongside, but fearing interactions with humans is certainly not the most unique concept around, but it’s one of my favorites, and I think this film handled it better than I’ve seen in any other films, for reasons I’ll be getting into shortly.
Something which has always fascinated me is the idea that just as existence logically be infinitely large, it must also be infinitely small. I think that most people have a tendency to overlook the smaller details of the world around us, perhaps because we see small things as unimportant or inconsequential, whereas we’re often fascinated with bigger things. Most people view adventure as going out and seeing the world on a large scale, but I think it can also be an adventure to look at the world on a smaller scale and think of how all the little things come together to shape our environment.
The best way I can relate that feeling is, have you ever gone digging through drawers, boxes, or closets in your house where a lot of small things have built up over the years? I suppose really organized people might not have these situations, but I’ve had times where I spent hours just digging through my desk drawers, seeing things I don’t even remember and wondering, how the hell did this get here? What even is this thing? And that can be an adventure in itself.
Arrietty is a film about a family of little people living under the floors of an old house, who make a living by taking things that humans won’t miss and putting them to use. Looking around at their house is like an adventure in itself–seeing all the little things they’ve re-appropriated for new uses, and wondering what they had to do to get ahold of those things. The first scene wherein Arrietty and her father explore the house together is positively exhilarating. A lot of films have managed to capture the sense of scale that a tiny creature would feel looking at the human world, but few capture the sense of adventure that would come from exploring that world, nor so imaginatively come up with the tools and abilities which those characters might have.
The magic of this film comes through in the details, and how it utilizes visual and sound design as parts of its storytelling. Use of realistic sound effects, and the ambient noises that make adventuring the human world feel like exploring a cave in Uncharted or Tomb Raider, bring the world to life from a whole new perspective. Suddenly, a kitchen no longer appears to us as a kitchen, but really does feel like this vast canyon. These are characters who could actually die if they slipped and fell from the kitchen counter, so we get this sense of gravity and drama from all of their movement.
Arrietty is not quickly paced, nor is its storyline complicated. It easily moves between scenes that are meant to connect us more and more to the world and characters, and it banks on that fascination. If you’re as mesmerized at the sight of Arriety climbing up vines to the roof of a house, and staring out at a garden which to her seems like a vast world, as I was, then this will be your kind of movie. I don’t want to spoil anything for those who haven’t seen it, but there were moments later on which really reminded me of The Minish Cap in the way that they inventively utilized a tiny environment to create complex movement puzzles for the characters to solve. A lot of Arrietty felt like watching a gorgeous platformer game, and it really made me want to play one after the film was over.
It isn’t too surprising that I haven’t seen this movie talked about all that much, and not just because it’s one of those rare Ghibli films which isn’t directed by Hayao Miyazaki. I completely understand why this film might not appeal to some people if the ideas and details that it presents don’t grab you the way they did me. I’d love to eventually do a commentary on this film similar to the one I did for Ponyo just to really get into all the things that I loved about it, but I’d like to give it a while and maybe a few rewatches to let it sink in before doing so. Altogether though, with its gorgeous soundtrack and visuals, and its fun, if somewhat cliched storyline, I enjoyed the hell out of this movie, and if any of what you’ve heard or seen in this video is exciting to you, then I recommend checking it out.