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Film Review: “The Secret World of Arrietty”

The following review contains minor spoilers for The Secret World of Arrietty and the novel The Borrowers. Also, although the names are somewhat different in the original Japanese, since I saw this as an English dub, I’m going to use the English names.


My daughter loves Miyazaki films. Her favorite movie is Ponyo, and she loves My Neighbor Totoro as well.

On Friday*, Miyazaki’s latest presentation to American audiences hit theaters. It’s The Secret World of Arrietty, based on the Mary Norton novel The Borrowers. Arrietty was released in Japan in 2010 and grossed the U.S. equivalent of $23 million. It runs 94 minutes; there is no coda once the video behind the credits fades to black.

I’ve never read The Borrowers, although I think I may have seen the 1973 Hallmark Hall of Fame version. Still, I knew the gist of the story: tiny people that live in the crawlspaces and under the floorboards borrow things that humans won’t miss, and if they are seen by humans, bad things happen.

The Studio Ghibli adaptation of the novel, written by Miyazaki and Keiko Niwa, remains relatively faithful to the novel: a young man named Shawn visits the country home where his parents grew up; he’s there because he’s soon to have heart surgery, and he needs to rest. While there, he catches a glimpse of a tiny girl being chased by the family cat, Nina. The tiny girl is Arrietty, a borrower just on the cusp of maturity (fourteen). Arrietty goes on her first borrowing with her father, Pod, but just before she can borrow a tissue, Shawn wakes up and sees her (but not her father). She escapes, and while her father doesn’t hold it against her, Shawn’s curiosity is piqued and he continues to try and see Arrietty again.

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