The Secret World of Arriety

Movie: Directed by Hiromasa Yonebayashi.

Inciting Event: “Borrower” Arriety—a four-inch-tall girl—is out in the yard gathering bay leaves when the grandson of the big house’s owner arrives. Shawn is preparing for heart surgery and has come to the country to rest during his parents’ divorce. Shawn catches a glimpse of Arriety hiding in the bushes.

This is a very early Inciting Event, taking place basically in the first scene. We get a later turning point in Arriety’s life when she starts out on her first “Borrowing” (a venture to gather supplies form the big house) with her father that night.

First Plot Point: While collecting a sheet of tissue paper from Shawn’s room, Arriety is seen by Shawn, who speaks to her. She follows Borrow protocol and sneaks away, but she accidentally drops the sugar cube her father “borrowed” earlier.

All things considered, this is a very gentle First Plot Point, but it is made more dramatic by the characters’ reaction to it. Arriety is both deeply shaken and deeply curious about the human boy.

First Pinch Point: Shawn brings the sugar cube and a note saying “you forgot something” to the drain grate that leads to Arriety’s home under the foundation of the big house. Arriety’s father orders Arriety to leave the sugar cube alone. He warns that once a human has seen a Borrower, his curiosity won’t let him rest until he finds them.

This is a really nice pinch point, demonstrating how the emphasis of the antagonistic force doesn’t necessarily have to be “antagonistic.” Viewers know Shawn has no intention of harming Arriety, and yet he poses a tremendous, if unwitting, threat to her, her family, and her world.

Midpoint: Overwhelmingly drawn to Shawn, Arriety takes the ant-eaten remains of the sugar cube and carries it up to his windowsill, intending to leave it. When he spies her and asks her not to go, she demands that he leave her family alone. A crow attacks and Shawn saves Arriety from both the bird and the suspicious housekeeper Hara, who has a vendetta against the little people because everyone thinks she’s crazy for believing in them.

The story shifts gears on a number of levels after this scene. Even as Arriety grows to trust Shawn, her father decides that they must now find a new home where the humans don’t know about them.

Second Pinch Point: In a misguided attempt to help Arriety’s family, Shawn opens the floorboards above their home, rips out their kitchen, and replaces it with a fine dollhouse kitchen. In the aftermath of the “earthquake,” the housekeeper Hara discovers the Borrowers’ house and calls in the exterminators.

Again, this is a nice emphasis of the true threat the humans pose to the Borrowers even when, like Shawn, they only want to be friends.

Third Plot Point: Hara opens up the Borrowers’ house and kidnaps Arriety’s mother. This is the “worst possible thing” that could happen to Arriety, which has been foreshadowed throughout the entire story.

Climax: Arriety and Shawn work together to rescue her mother.

Resolution: Arriety and her family start out on their journey to the next house down the road. Arriety must say goodbye to Shawn.

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