Film Review: When Marnie Was There

Recently I was able to see the Studio Ghibli film, When Marnie Was There, which is suggested to be possibly the last feature film to be released by the critically acclaimed, Japan-based animation company.

When Marnie Was There ©Studio Ghibli [gif from ghibli-forever.tumblr.com]

When Marnie Was There is the story of a 12-year-old girl named Anna who is being fostered in the city. When she suffers from an asthma attack she is sent off to live with her foster mothers relatives out in the countryside. While she finds herself enjoying the peacefulness and lack of responsibility she is also plagued with an inability to find comfort in other people. That is, until she meets the mysterious Marnie, who seems to live in the old abandoned mansion on the marsh.

When Marnie Was There is based on the Joan G. Robinson novel of the same name, which is actually incredibly hard to find a copy of nowadays. Luckily it received a recent reprint (probably due to the release of the film).

Studio Ghibli has previously adapted such novels as Diana Wynne Jones Howl’s Moving Castle and Mary Norton’s The Borrowers (into The Secret World of Arrietty). Arrietty and Marnie share the same director in fact, Hiromasa Yonebayashi.

The studio is more predominantly known for the works of Hayao Miyazaki and Isao Takahata, whose films have received numerous awards including multiple Oscar nominations and even a win in 2002 for Miyazaki’s Spirited Away.

Both When Marnie Was There and The Secret World of Arrietty have all the grace and charm of any Ghibli film. Though Yonebayashi’s tend to hold more of a focus in the absolutely ordinary amongst the extraordinary. Neither are shy of focusing on raindrops falling, birds pecking about in the background and other things we often look on by. While many Ghibli films allow the viewer time to breathe between plot advancement, these films seem to almost focus on it.

When Marnie Was There ©Studio Ghibli

When Marnie Was There ©Studio Ghibli

What is worth noting about When Marnie Was There are its depictions of social anxiety and depression. The main character, Anna has little idea as to how one interacts with someone. She finds herself constantly saying the wrong thing and being generally irritable around other people. In one sequence we even see her take a longer route simply to avoid interaction with a girl that is passing on by.

Her depression is depicted in forms of self-isolation. She sees herself as unloved and unwanted because she is a foster child and she believes she is ugly and weird because of the color of her eyes, which her peers don’t help with, often pointing out what makes her different or mocking her quiet nature. The only comfort Anna finds is within her sketching and spending time alone, exploring.

marnie4

When she comes upon the old marsh house she finds a girl named Marnie, who quickly becomes her closest friend regardless of the fact that Marnie keeps disappearing and coming back and changing. The two share secrets, including their friendship.

The film depicts a certain loneliness I’ve never seen in an animated film before. The laid out out, fully-realized depiction of social anxiety is done in such a way as the viewer can experience what the character is  going through even if they lack first-hand experience.

When Marnie Was There ©Studio Ghibli

That’s what ends up making the friendship developed between the two girls seem so charming and real.

When Marnie Was There ©Studio Ghibli [gif from oh-totoro.com]

When Marnie Was There (Japanese BluRay)

When Marnie Was There is now available on region-free Japanese BluRay and will be released in U.S. cinemas Spring 2015 by distribution company GKids.

For more high-resolution gifs and images of Studio Ghibli content, visit oh-totoro.com

Until next time!

damian alexander

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