When Marnie Was There Review
Since its founding 30 years ago, Studio Ghibli has delighted and enchanted animation fans of all ages across the world. Now with the apparent retirement of its co-founder and most prominent director Hayao Miyazaki, the studio has taken a hiatus in productions, leading many to believe that this is the end of film releases from this giant of hand-drawn animation. I choose not to speculate, but should the worst case scenario happen, then at least the studio has ended with a film as sweet and beautiful as When Marnie Was There.
Anna is a quiet girl who goes to spend the summer with relatives in the country due to her poor health. Filled with personal anguish, she is content to be left completely alone. She finds herself drawn to a mysterious house across the bay and makes an unlikely connection with Marnie, the girl who claims to live there despite the house being entirely abandoned.
One of the things that I’ve always admired about Studio Ghibli is their ability to express very complex emotional and personal stories in their work. Spirited Away at its core is about growing up, Kiki’s Delivery Service about leaving home, and Princess Mononoke is a morality fable of industrial progress vs nature with no easy good or bad guys. I’m also sure Tales from Earthsea was about something worthwhile, but I still can’t tell you what. When Marnie Was There continues this trend by touching on some very complex issues for young people, such as loss, self loathing, broken families, introversion, and even briefly mental illness and abuse. Anna and Marnie have an instant, and somewhat mysterious, connection, bonding and sharing their feelings about their respective lives. There is that usual element of magical realism, but in this case I would say it is closer to something like Whisper of the Heart than others in the Ghibli canon; a slight veneer of the fantastical whilst the real main drive of the narrative is in very ordinary and relatable human drama. There is also the mystery of who Marnie is and what connection Anna has to her and the abandoned mansion across the bay. This element I thought was very well played, and once revealed definitely adds to the film’s appeal for repeat viewings as even when you know the ultimate ending, the emotional drama just becomes stronger and more heart-wrenching. My only criticism is that they really hammer the conclusion home at the end, even beyond what I thought was obvious, but I accept that as this is a children’s film there is a necessity for making sure things are extra clear.
The animation is, of course, beautiful. It’s very hard to elaborate more on that particular point. The landscapes are everything we’ve come to expect from a Ghibli film, and the bright colours have the same vibrancy of director Hiromasa Yonebayashi’s previous directorial feature, The Secret World of Arrietty. There is such care and effort put into each individual shot of the film. In a world of computer-generated messes concerned mainly with being a distraction and fitting in as many fart gags as possible, it is a real treat to just let something that is a genuine work of art wash over you and enchant you.
If When Marnie Was There is to be the end of Studio Ghibli, then this is the best possible end it could have; beautiful and poignant that leaves you with a bittersweet smile.