This beautifully realised version of The Borrowers hailing from Japan’s Studio Ghibli only lasted for a week in my local cinema, which was a real shame as it was one of the best hand-drawn animations I have seen for a long time.
The film stays faithfully true to Mary Norton’s books, centering the story around Arrietty and her family – slightly neurotic mother Homily and taciturn father Pod – and what happens to their carefully hidden lives when they come to the notice of the “human beans”. More than its adherence to the original story, this film was simply enchanting for its beauty and the wonder that it imbued on everyday life – as seen from Arrietty’s tiny viewpoint.
The colours are vibrant and clean, giving everything a rain-washed cleanliness so that the garden becomes a paradise of flowers and greenery, whilst the interior of both the Borrowers’ house and the larger human one within which they live makes normal domesticity something fascinating to behold. In particular, the beauty lies in the details, with in depth consideration given to how Arrietty would experience the world around her – water is thick and gloopy, and the sounds that she hears are tremendously magnified – the click and rustle of insects moving or the fabric of clothes become loud booms and clatters, and an oceanic roaring. On her first “borrowing” expedition with Pod, a normal family kitchen takes on gargantuan proportions which the two must nimbly negotiate.
The film exudes a sense of childlike innocence and wonder, tempered by the real dangers of the world its main characters live in. This perfectly reflects Arrietty’s own personality – she is very much the child exploring her world and taking the first steps towards adulthood, discovering that her actions have consequences. The friendship that barely has time to develop between her and the human boy Sho is surprisingly touching, and again highlights the subtle brilliance with which this film has been made.
I saw a subtitled version, and whilst there are various dubbed versions out there, in flavour and style the film is so definitely Japanese that I think hearing an English or American accent over the delicacy of the anime drawings would jar, whereas for me, listening to the dialogue without understanding it added to the surreality and to the enchantment.