The ExPat Returneth

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Arrietty the Borrower: Reliving Japan Thru Studio Ghibli

The Japanese poster for Arrietty
I took the kids to see The Secret World of Arrietty this weekend. I'm not sure how American kids will respond to the movie, but I loved it. The film is beautiful and paced for exploring the studio's artistry in creating the lush landscape and detailed settings. My kids enjoyed the story, but they really enjoyed seeing Japan through the movie even more.

The Borrowers by Mary Norton was one of my favorite books growing up. I longed to shrink into their little world and drink tea from thimbles and eat off of buttons. I don't know why the world of itsy bitsy holds such pleasure for children (maybe our desire to be bigger than something else?), but I couldn't get enough of The Borrowers world and read every book in the series available at that time.

In 2010, Hiyao Miyazaki's animation studio, Studio Ghibli, released Arrietty The Borrower in Japan. Studio Ghibli's best known film in America is My Neighbor Totoro. We were still living in Nagoya at the time and visiting a wonderful park, Mori-koro Park. One of their halls had a Studio Ghibli exhibition with drawings and posters from all the Studio Ghibli films as well as three-dimensional mock-ups of Arrietty's film set. I was thrilled to see one of my childhood books made into a movie by an animation studio that I admire. 

Now that it finally came to the U.S., I took my girls opening weekend hoping they would love Arrietty's world and want to read the book. They've watched several Studio Ghibli films, Totoro is a favorite as well as Kiki's Delivery Service (adorable) and Ponyo

Loving Totoro at Morikoro Park
The movie started and the girls gasped, "Look! Arrietty lives in Japan!" 

I hadn't counted on the Japanese background in watching the movie. The girls were taken with the everyday items of Japan more than the story of the Borrowers. Arrietty's house is under a futon closet. Her mother makes green tea. The sugar borrowed is cubed, not so unusual, but completely normal in a Japanese sugar pot. Signs are in Japanese. My kids even recognized the kind of car Shawn's grandmother drives. The crow in the movie is as much of a nuisance as crows are in real Japan.

As I watched, I realized the Japaneseness of Studio Ghibli's stories may be one of the things I most love about their films as well. It's nice to revisit places you love in films. Even when you're not expecting it.


  1. Love your blog; my daughter (born and raised in Japan) visited and we made Oyako-donburi from your recipe and now Arrietty!
    BUT I wish you would make your HUGE carp cover photo smaller, much smaller.....boy that would help!

  2. Thanks Kay! I wish I could make the carp smaller, too, but Blogger won't let me. Not sure what to do about that yet.

    Are you going to see Arrietty? How old is your daughter? Mine are 9 and 6. They really enjoyed the movie. Hope the Oyakodon turned out well! I love it when I don't have a lot of time or imagination for a meal.:)

  3. When exploring a foreign culture, the personal connection is a powerful thing. For me, it was the sugar cubes.

  4. Thanks, Sherry! Have you lived overseas? This is a really beautiful movie.