Located in the suburbs of Tokyo is a large mansion with an overgrown and magical garden, and below the floorboards of this house live three very small occupants. These occupants are Homily, played by Olivia Colman, Pod, played by Mark Strong and their daughter Arrietty, played by Siaorse Ronan. They have lived in this house, which is owned by two old women, for a long time and they live by ‘borrowing’ things from the owners.
They have a rule that if they are ever seen by the owners of the house they have to leave and go somewhere else. Soon enough however, the old ladies are visited by a 12-year-old boy and he discovers the presence of Arrietty. Soon they start confiding in each other and a strong friendship between the two starts to develop.
The animation in the production is exceptional and this new adaptation of The Borrowers novel is certainly a charming experience. It’s not going to be the success that Howl’s Moving Castle, or Spirited Away was, but it is still very enjoyable production. It is directed by Hiromasa Yonebayashi and is his directorial debut. Previously, he has worked as an animator on the two other productions mentioned above.
The bridge between Japanese and English culture that is represented in the film never feels quite complete however, and many people who watch it will also find that the parallels between the miniature world, and the real world, are not quite satisfying enough.
The film starts by telling the story of Arrietty as she is taken out as a young girl on her first borrowing expedition. She must go with her father to take a cube of sugar from a bowl in the kitchen and the challenge of this makes it more like a mountain climbing adventure, rather than a trip to the grocery store.
The young Arrietty has been raised with the belief that she has many things to be afraid of, which includes the humans that she shares the house with. Her perspective changes when she meets the young boy who has come to stay at the house. He is sick and she cannot see how it is possible that he could do her harm.
Interestingly, the film does not seem particularly targeted towards children. There are scenes in it which seem more appropriate for an older audience, such as the one where a crow slams into the window of the boys bedroom. It is quite a disturbing scene and one that doesn’t seem particularly appropriate for a younger audience.
There are some wonderful new and inventive ideas used in the film. Backdrops that look like watercolour paintings are incredibly beautiful and the film looks as, if in many ways, it has taken a step back in time.
The film is a million miles away from the original Borrowers film that was created in 1998 starring Jim Broadbent and John Goodman. The film is available in the English language, as well as being released in Japanese, with English subtitles available.