The Borrower Arrietty

Everything About Fiction You Never Wanted to Know.

I'm fourteen years old, I'm pretty
I am a teeny tiny girl, a little lady
I live under the kitchen floor
Right here, not so far from you

—Arrietty's Song

The Borrower Arrietty (Japanese 借りぐらしのアリエッティ Hepburn Karigurashi no Arietty), also known as The Secret World of Arriety, or simply Arrietty, is a 2010 Studio Ghibli film directed Hiromasa Yonebayashi and written by Hayao Miyazaki, in what marks the former's directorial debut. It's based on Mary Norton's series The Borrowers. The film was released to critical acclaim, and won the Animation of the Year award at the Japanese Academy Prize. The film grossed nearly $150 million, and is one of the highest grossing anime films not based on an existing anime franchise.

Arrietty is a young member of a race known as the Borrowers. As one might suspect from that name, they make their living stealing items (borrowing, in their parlance) from the giant "human beans". Their primary rule is to avoid ever being seen by these terrifying creatures, regardless of how friendly or supportive they are. Arrietty is about to go on her first trip as a Borrower, learning how to live on her own, and the tips and tricks of navigating the human world while being six inches tall.

Minor problem: A boy moved into the house Arrietty's family borrows from. No big deal, just another part of life to deal with, except...

Major problem: Arrietty was spotted by the boy.

Well, that's a bit awkward, breaking the number one most important rule of your entire species on your very first trip out. But fear not! Arrietty is in luck, for Studio Ghibli regulates that that their protagonists be Plucky Girls. This is but a minor setback to Arrietty, who is back to her old adventurous self after one night. The rest of the film focuses on Arrietty's both internal and external struggles after being seen, and her interactions with the boy.

Being a Studio Ghibli film, it features mandatory and frequent usage of Scenery Porn, often focusing on how regular human activities and scale looks from the perspective of a six inch girl. A kitchen becomes an obstacle gauntlet, requiring carefully planning and skill to navigate, and a cute kitten is now a dangerous entity. The animation often focuses on close shots of nature, complete with realistic water tension and physics, depicting Lilliputians' perception of the world around them.

The film hit UK cinemas in the summer of 2011 under the shortened title Arrietty, in Australia in the summer of 2011, and was released in February of 2012 by Disney in the US, retitled as The Secret World of Arriety. The film has a Disney dub and a separate UK dub.

Tropes used in The Borrower Arrietty include:
An Establishing Shot for the house the film takes place in.
  • Actor Allusion: This is not the first time real-life couple Will Arnett and Amy Poehler had roles in the same movie! ... One of them playing a "tiny person raising a child!"
  • Alternative Foreign Theme Song: During the ending credits, in the Disney's English dub a cover of the Thematic Theme Tune "Arrietty's Song" is used for around two minutes. Then, Disney switches to the specifically composed "Summertime" by Bridgit Mendler. In the UK dub as well as the original Japanese track, "Arrietty's Song" is played for the entirety of the end credits.
  • Animated Adaptation: The Film of the Book of The Borrowers by Mary Norton. Unlike the many other adaptations, Ghibli changed the name of the film. It is known by many different names depending on where you live, differentiating this adaptation from the rest.
  • Animation Bump: Apparent with the close-ups and Scenery Porn sweeping shots, especially with the flora and fauna, which move rather realistically with the wind.
  • Arcadia: Even though the film takes place in a mansion in a city, the characters all live calm and relaxed lifestyles. Sho frequently lies in the garden and reads books. Arrietty likes to explore the neighbouring plants and wildlife. Greenery plays a huge part in the film, as Arrietty hides behind it or climbs up it.
  • Audible Sharpness: Arrietty's pin/sword.
  • Balcony Escape: When Haru locks the door to Sho's room, he climbs out the window and moves along the rooftop to an adjacent window. Arrietty then unlocks the window, and he climbs in.
  • Bamboo Technology: The Borrowers' technology mostly consists of scraped together things they collected from humans. This doesn't stop them from creating advanced and powerful tools, though.
  • Beauty Equals Goodness: All of the good characters are drawn to be normal and decent-looking. Haru, on the other hand, looks rather toad-like half of the time. She starts out looking acceptable and noble, but as her antics goes on her appearance slowly becomes more ugly.
  • Big Creepy-Crawlies: Any bugs when drawn in comparison to the Borrowers. Ants are the size of rats to them, and crickets are as big as dogs. Arrietty uses a pin to scare them off, and it's portrayed as a heroic and exhausting act.
  • Big Fancy House: Almost every scene in the film takes place in the house, which is filled with serene and ornate grass and trees. In the house, it's difficult to tell that it's actually in the middle of a big city, due to its size and the abundance of wildlife.
  • Bittersweet Ending: Arrietty and her family ultimately move away from the house, the Borrowers never ended up using the doll house like Sho's great-grandfather hoped, and Sho soon faces his operation. However, Arrietty and Sho tenderly part ways, exchanging tokens to each other, and it's implied that Arrietty and her family will live in a more hopeful and safe place. In the Disney dub, Sho's operation was a success. He was basically preparing to die beforehand, but the ending narration reveals that he's still alive a whole year later.
  • Bland-Name Product: We briefly see a bottle of "Ivori Soap".
  • Boy Meets Girl: In this case, the trope is used in an interesting way. The size difference between Arrietty and Sho, as well as the Borrowers' rule to never be seen, means that Arrietty is embarrassed and slowly walks away. Sho, however, is persistent in trying to speak to her, even leaving the cube of sugar she dropped while retreating close by her house.
  • Cats Are Mean: Played straight at first--Sho's cat Niya is a mean predatory thing. Ultimately subverted when he makes his peace with the Borrowers. Near the end of the film, he closes his eyes halfway -- a display of affection from real cats.
  • Character Title: Arrietty herself appears on all English titles and the original Japanese version, but not in the title of the book the film was adapted from.
  • Chekhov's Gun:
    • The pin, which is later used to free Homily.
    • Averted with the dollhouse.
    • "Don't look down."
  • Creative Closing Credits: The credits sequence is imposed over a fully animated epilogue involving Arrietty and her family floating down a stream on a teapot. Its animation quality is just as great, if not greater, than the rest of the film. When that sequence is finished, the credits transition to a background with more detail than most paintings.
  • Creepy Cockroach: Arrietty tries to fight one to show off her bravery, but Pod discourages her, saying a borrower shouldn't go looking for trouble.
  • Cultural Translation: Unlike many Ghibli films in the past, some names where changed in the dub as well as flipping some scenes to make it seem like it's set in America, although the backgrounds make it clear where it is actually set.
  • Disproportionate Retribution: The Borrowers only takes a few scraps of things that humans will not miss if they're gone. Haru responds by capturing one of their members and calling pest control.
  • Distracted by the Luxury: Homily by the shiny tea sets in the doll house kitchen.
  • Dramatic Wind: When Arrietty climbs to the top of the Big Fancy House and wipes sweat off her forehead, the climbing ivy sways in the wind as the camera pans out to an aerial shot of the garden.
  • Dueling Dubs: There are two English dubs, one produced by Disney, and another produced by the British StudioCanal, possibly because the source material was written in Britain. The British dub is more faithful to the original material, avoiding the Dub Name Changes brought about via the Disney one, and keeping the ending "Arrietty's Song" intact. The Disney dub also adds a line from Sho before the ending credits, implying a much happier ending than the original film. This line is absent in the StudioCanal one.
  • Establishing Shot: A pan of the garden up to the house near the beginning of the film. This is used when Sho gets out of the car, and establishes the secluded nature of the place that he will be staying in. Bonus points for the details and lush green colours used during the shot.
  • Expy: Nearly every major human character has a counterpart in the original books. Sho/Shawn is The Boy, and Aunt Sadako/Jessica is basically Great Aunt Sophy.
  • Fainting: A monster faint, of sorts, when Homily sees Shawn put the doll house kitchen in their home.
  • Foreign Language Theme: Downplayed. The opening songs "The Neglected Garden" and "Our House Below" are available only in English, even in the original Japanese tracks. The ending "Arrietty's Song", however, is available in both English and Japanese.
  • Foreshadowing: In the beginning of the film, when Sho gets out of the car, a crow swoops down and attacks a cat, creating turbulence and fighting. This alludes to the crow's later attack on Arrietty.
  • Gaslighting: Sho pulls a minor case of this on Haru, moving the dollhouse kitchen back to the dollhouse when she's not looking to convince her that she's imagining the Borrowers.
    • He also appears in front of her after she locks him in his room, visibly startling him.
  • GASP: Arrietty when she realises that she has was seen by Sho.
  • Ghibli Plains: Sho sometimes lies down in the garden--a miniature version of Ghibli Plains--to read a book. It's a small, secluded place, not as sprawling as other examples, but making up for it in its cosiness. There's trees growing overhead and a small stream crossing through the garden. The trope is used to create a dreamy sense of comfort in the middle of a busy city.
  • Good Parents: Pod is a stern yet fair version. Homily may be a bit more easily hysterical and anxious when it comes to the safety of her family, but she cares very much for Arrietty and wants the best for her daughter.
  • Gratuitous English: Both the English and Japanese versions of "Arrietty's Song" opens with the line "I'm fourteen years old, I am pretty", before continuing in their respective languages.
  • Happily Married: Pod and Homily.
  • Housewife: Homily is the only non-action one in the family, preferring to stay at home.
  • Huge Guy, Tiny Girl: Exaggerated. Justified as Arrietty is a Borrower, who, by their very definitions as Lilliputians, are meant to be small. Sho is by no means a large boy, but he is a giant relative to the Borrowers.
  • Important Hair Accessory: Arrietty gives away her little hairpin before moving away and parting with Sho.
  • It Was Here, I Swear: Haru tries to show Sadako/Jessica the Borrowers' home, as well as the kitchen which they Sho put inside their house. When Haru checks where it is supposed to be, the kitchen is missing. When she checks in the doll house that the kitchen has come from,
  • I Will Protect Her: Sho to Arrietty.
  • Last of His Kind: Arrietty's mother references this, fearing that she and her family were the last Borrowers. Later proven not to be the case with Spiller's existence.
  • Left Hanging: The film does not answer whether Sho survives his operation or not, leaving it to be a Riddle for the Ages, and what Arrietty does after she moves away. The fact that Sho survives his operation is vaguely hinted at in the Opening Monologue, which is in past tense, implying that he lived to tell the tale after the operation. The Disney dub adds an Happy Ending, implying that the Borrowers have found a new home as things are going missing, and that Sho returns the house the next summer, implying that he has survived his operation.
  • Lying on a Hillside: Sho does this while reading a book, and petting Niya. Arrietty walks up to him to say goodbye.
  • May I Borrow a Cup of Sugar?: Considering that "Borrower" is in the title, of course this will happen at some point or another, although the usage of the term "borrow" in the film is more akin to "steal" than the conventional meaning. Homily asks Arrietty to borrow sugar while she's out on her first trip. The Borrowers' lives rely on the ability to take things from humans they don't need, that they will not miss. This eventually sets up the story as Arrietty is spotted, and later has to move away; it's the singular event that kickstarts the plot.
  • Memento MacGuffin: Before they go their separate ways in the ending, Arrietty gives Sho her clothespin hairclip.
  • Named by the Adaptation: In the original The Borrowers, Sho was simply called "the Boy" and was not given a name.
  • Nice Job Breaking It, Hero: Sho's effort to do Arrietty and her family a kind turn by giving them the dollhouse kitchen not only traumatizes Homily and forces the family to prepare to move, but it also leads to Haru discovering their home and capturing Homily. Though Homily, as predicted, really likes that kitchen and is heartbroken to part from it.
  • Officially Shortened Title: In some regions, the film is simply known as Arrietty, instead of the Japanese title The Borrower Arrietty. In the USA, this trope is inverted and the title becomes the much longer The Secret World of Arrietty.
  • Opening Monologue: Downplayed with its brevity, and the fact that this is the only narrated part of the film. The trop is used in both English dubs as well as the original Japanese track.

Sho: I'll never forget that summer. I spent a week in the old house where my mother grew up.

  • Opposite Gender Protagonists: Arrietty and the Sho. The Huge Guy, Tiny Girl dynamic between the two, as well as the fact that Arrietty isn't allowed to visit the boy -- human beings are perceived as dangerous by Borrowers -- make this pairing stand out. The two are dependent on each other: Sho needs someone to support him with his heart condition; and Arrietty is powerless due to her small size, and needs help from a human to navigate the confusing world. Thus, placing them at the center of the film strengthens their relationship, and gives audiences a feeling of sorrow when they inevitably have to part.
  • Parental Abandonment: Sho's parents are divorced; he rarely sees his father and his mother is often working.
  • Parents in Distress: Arrietty and Sho team up to rescue Arrietty's mother Homily from Haru.
  • People Jars: Or rather, a Borrower jar. Homily is put in one, by Haru, and Arrietty has to rescue her.
  • Playing Against Type: Comedic actor Will Arnett voicing the Harrison Ford-esque Pod.
  • Plucky Girl: Arrietty, of course, yet another Ghibli staple. Arrietty deals with breaking one of the core laws that guard her peoples' interactions, and seeks out the boy who she once met. She has to save her mum in a people jar. The second to last shot in the film has Arrietty looking into the distance, hopeful for what her future brings.
  • Pragmatic Adaptation: The film saw a setting update from England to Japan to reflect the location of its production studio. It mostly adapts the plot of the first book, but it introduces a character from the second book, and its ending sequence is from the third book. In the original book, Arrietty was keeping a dairy, but the element is removed in this adaptation, which emphasises an outgoing and adventurous personality.
  • The Quiet One: Pod and Spiller even more so.
    • Sho isn't very talkative either.
  • Ravens and Crows: A crow attempts to catch Arrietty, only to crash and get stuck in a window screen.
  • Scenery Porn: It's Studio Ghibli. Were you expecting anything else? It's even more prevalent in the film than their usual works, with sweeping shots of plants and the garden. Shots of what the locations and settings which would appear normal to a human is shown to be vastly different from the perspective of Lilliputians. Greenery is abundant throughout the entire film.
  • Ship Tease: There are a few hints dropped here and there that Spiller likes Arrietty.
  • Shout-Out: Spiller's costume and facial markings are very reminiscent of San's wardrobe and make-up from Princess Mononoke, which is an earlier Studio Ghibli film.
    • In the photo of Sho's mother and aunt as children, they look similar to Satsuki and Mei from My Neighbor Totoro. In addition, their mother resembles the mother of Satsuki and Mei.
    • The title character is a young woman in her early teens belonging to a mythical race. She wears a mono-colored one-piece dress, has dark(-ish) colored hair, has a bow-like hair ornament, and she befriends a cat. Sound familiar?
    • A rude, spotted fat cat who fights with a crow? That's new.
  • Shown Their Work: The way the liquids behave on small-scale. They all have surface tension, so water beads from their teapot in droplets, and melted cheese forms big round balls, among other things.
    • When Arrietty first enters her room through a window, the curtains sway slightly, representing realistic airflow. This also happens when she closes the same window. Doesn't seem that impressive, but remember that this film is animated, meaning someone has to draw this detail.
    • Niya slowly blinks while looking at Arrietty, a gesture used by real cats to display affection.
    • The flora and fauna are animated in a rather realistic manner, right down to the dew that forms on top of them.
  • Slice of Life: The film is laid back and calm enough to the point where it can be classed as being Slice of Life. It features moments like sleeping, sewing, and eating, in between the more adventurous elements like climbing.
  • The Something Song: The ending "Arrietty's Song".
  • Staring Down Cthulhu: Arrietty and Niya at the end of the film, when the Borrowers are moving away. Niya is portrayed as a huge figure which takes up most of the screen, with Arrietty framed at the centre of the shot. The shots that focus on Niya has the cat's face take up the entirety of the screen, the shots that focus on Arrietty shows a lot of background scenery. Arrietty's back is shown, and Niya's eyes are clearly visible.
  • Surprisingly Functional Toys: The doll house, which serves as a fully functional residence for the Borrowers, complete with a working kitchen. Justified, as it is specifically built for little people.
  • Surprisingly Good English: Inverted with Cecile Corbel and the Japanese version of Arrietty's Song, which she sings herself. It works. Also played straight with the English version of the song. She's French.
  • Theme Music Withholding: "Arrietty's Song" is only used twice in the film: when Arrietty is seeking out Sho after being spotted by him, and in the ending credits. This maximises the power of the theme when it actually comes on, and adds to the adventurous atmosphere. Similarly, the tracks "The Neglected Garden" and "Our House Below" establishes Leitmotifs that are only used two times.
  • Timmy in a Well: Sho's/Shawn's cat leads him to Arrietty's departing family.
  • Title Theme Drop: The Ending Theme "Arrietty's Song" plays, non-diegetically, over a sequence where Arrietty is climbing up the house on creeping vines.
  • Trailers Always Spoil: The U.S. trailer reveals the Clocks in the teapot on the river, Arrietty befriending the cat, Arrietty and Sho/Shawn saying goodbye, and Arrietty rescuing Homily.
  • Wham! Line: When Shawn and Arrietty first have a conversation: "I'm sorry for upsetting you. I'm actually the one who's going to die."