It’s been a few years since I first watched Studio Ghibli’s Arietty (借りぐらしのアリエッティ/The Secret World of Arietty) directed by Hiromasa Yonebayashi. I remember enjoying the familiar story presented in a different, but familiar way. That is, Japanese animation. And watching it for the first time since then, I find myself appreciating it even more.
Adapted from the classic novel The Borrowers by Mary Norton (adapted for film and TV several times over the years), Arietty tells the story of the title character and her parents who are “Borrowers.” The miniature family live in a well-furnished home of their own in the crawl space of a quaint country home where regular-sized human “beans” (as they call them) live.
One of the “beans” is a young boy named Sho who goes to live with his great aunt in preparation for his upcoming heart surgery. Having been told stories of the “little people” in the home, he is not afraid and rather wants to befriend Arietty when he spots her during one of her and her father’s “borrowing” missions.
The film takes two different slice of life stories (that of Arietty and her family and that of Sho) and merges them together. Discussing the value of family and friendship in the midst of loneliness and unavoidable barriers, Arietty is a heartfelt, albeit simple story.
As always with Studio Ghibli films, the animation is stunningly beautiful. From the countryside landscape to the relative opulence of the country home and the fascinating architecture of Arietty’s own little home, the visuals are a feast for the eyes and an adventure to enjoy all on their own.
The visuals help enhance the feeling of nostalgia in the story as we see what feels like a fleeting, though memorable encounter for both Arietty and Sho. That the fleeting moments they spend together hold so much meaning and impact for both characters is a testament to the impeccable writing and directing.
As fantastical as the premise may seem to be, the story itself feels much more grounded and relatable than many of the more magical entries in the Studio Ghibli canon. The film deals with very real human emotions. Emotions that can be felt regardless of whether you are five feet tall or five inches tall.
The nostalgia and sincerity in the characters and the story lend to what is a satisfying, if heartbreaking and bittersweet climax. But a thoroughly emotional and affecting climax that leaves you with a positive sense of hopefulness.
While perhaps not on the most grand scale that some might expect from Studio Ghibli, Arietty nonetheless is a beautiful and stunning slice of life story that holds a sense of wonder and awe in some of the most simple and relatable moments in life.