In this edition of Creations of Chaos, it is the Studio Ghibli work that restored my faith in the magic of film, The Secret World of Arrietty.
Director: Hiromasa Yonebayashi
Writers: Hayao Miyazaki and Keiko Niwa
Release Date: 2010
Version Watched: English Dubbed (Disney Cast)
The Secret World of Arrietty arrived to United States theaters during a time when I was having a film slump. I had viewed a succession of films that caused me to leave the theater thoroughly disappointed. I was starting to feel that perhaps films no longer possessed the magical effect I so loved. I can still recall staring up at the screen during the first few minutes of The Secret World of Arrietty. I gazed at the captivating, animated, scenery, matched perfectly with the opening song. The moment when the camera focused in on a ladybug, who lazily ambled up a blade of grass, and then took flight, my faith in the magic of film was once again restored.
Much like Kiki in Kiki’s Delivery Service, Arrietty is a teenage girl who is about to taste her first real morsels of independence and adventure.
Arrietty, her wise, heroic father and anxiety ridden mother, live beneath the floor boards of a lovely country home. They survive by “borrowing” from humans. Borrowers take only what they need in the hopes that the humans will not notice what is missing and therefore not discover the tiny people who live among them.
The film begins with Arrietty’s father taking Arrietty on her first borrowing.
The venture ends poorly, when Arrietty is seen by the home’s new human resident, a boy whose heart condition has caused him to be sent to the summer home for some quiet and rest. Lonely, Shawn makes attempts to befriend Arrietty, but borrowers cannot talk to or be seen by humans, ever. Strong willed Arrietty, who is lonely and in need of a friend herself, defies the borrower rules and accepts Shawn’s friendship.
When the summer home’s housekeeper nefariously attempts to expose the existence of “the little people” to everyone, the timid Shawn must summon his courage and sense of adventure to help save his new friend and her family.
A Study in Dialogue
One of the outstanding things about The Secret World of Arrietty is the dialogue. There is not an ever flowing, wastefulness of words. Every syllable has a deliberate purpose. Words are something delicate to be held gently. Without an overabundance of words much of the story is told through music. The pluck of the harp strings informs you of adventure, or danger, or sadness. When Shawn places Arrietty on his shoulder, he doesn’t have to go into a long explanation of his plan to save Arrietty’s mother, the music tells you everything you need to know.
I remember falling so in love with the music when watching the film in the theater, I purchased the soundtrack, composed by harpist Cecile Corbel, as soon as I got home. It’s the type of music that blows through your soul like a soft breeze. I can’t help but feel sadness, beauty, and overwhelming joy each time I listen to the album.
The film has enough action scenes to make Indiana Jones proud. For borrowers, something as simple as acquiring a sugar cube becomes a major adventure.
The massive scale of everyday human things is never outlandish, or overly cartoonish. It is treated in a very matter of fact manner, making Arrietty and her family’s existence all the more believable.
The action scenes are paired perfectly with wonderful quiet moments. When Arrietty takes time to wipe droplets of rain from her hair and dress, the film takes a pause to give the audience time to truly admire the stunning animation.
Arrietty is a combination of all of the best young teenage girl qualities without any of the moodiness or sass. Like all teenagers, she is looking to forge relationships with those other than her parents. This is what makes Shawn’s presence so significant.
Although she always does her best to be respectful, out of her fearlessness and need for independence, Arrietty rebels, forming a friendship with Shawn, even after her parents forbade her to see or speak to him. She learns the hard way that certain rules are in place for a reason. Her actions have real consequences that she bravely takes responsibility for.
I appreciate that the film doesn’t take a humans and borrowers all become the best of friends and somehow find a way to live together in perfect harmony turn. With their cover blown, Arrietty’s family must move. Arrietty and Shawn must part ways, and although both escape any major life tragedies, there is still a fusion of weightiness and hopefulness as Arrietty sails off to her new, unknown home at the film’s end.
The Secret World of Arrietty isn’t just one of my favorite Studio Ghibli films, it is one of my favorite films. It has a thoughtful story, an inspiring heroine, and absolutely beautiful, detailed, animation. It is a little bit of magic, and I believe that we need more films like it in the world.