Image copyright © by Marcus Trahan

The Secret World of Arrietty

(Japan, 2010)

The Borrowers was a series of children’s books by Mary Norton, the first one coming out in 1952. It was about tiny people living in normal people’s houses and “borrowing” stuff to use as furniture, to eat, etc. Since, as far as I can determine, they never put anything back, the most appropriate title might have been The Thieves, but I guess that wouldn’t have gone over very well. The books inspired at least three TV adaptations and mini-series, and a full-length live-action theatrical release in 1997 starring John Goodman and Jim Broadbent. I saw it, and thought it was okay.

Here we have a Japanese anime version that has gone under several titles, released by Disney in this country with dubbed voices by Amy Poehler, Will Arnett, and Carol Burnett. As I’ve said elsewhere, I was a late convert to anime, and only of the very best kind done by a handful of geniuses. I will never be a fan of the low frame rate or any of the other money-saving measures that can make the form look so cheap, but there’s no denying that the best of this stuff is visually stunning and has some of the more imaginative stories you will ever see in cinema today.

This movie is the first directorial effort of Hiromasa Yonebayashi, who was chief animator of some of the greatest anime features, like Ponyo and Howl’s Moving Castle and Spirited Away, under the great Hayao Miyazaki. The imagination displayed here is not as stunningly original as it was in those films, but it’s just as beautiful, and very endearing. It’s a much smaller story. It did not go where I expected, always a good thing, and no western animation department would have okayed the ending, which was sweet and poignant. I recommend it, and hope this guy keeps working.