When Marnie Was There & Depression in Animation

The latest from the Japanese animation team at Studio Ghibli is an adaptation of the Joan G. Robinson children’s novel When Marnie Was There. Hayao Miyazaki, one of the main founders and acclaimed director at Studio Ghibli had listed the novel among his Top 50 Recommended Children’s Books so it wasn’t surprising to see this film in the works.

When Marnie Was There (2014) ©Studio Ghibli
When Marnie Was There (2014) ©Studio Ghibli

When Marnie Was There or Omoide No Marnie (as it is called in Japan) was released in Japanese cinemas July 2014. It will be released Summer 2015 in U.S. cinemas by the New York based foreign animation distributor GKids. GKids has been responsible for distribution of many amazing foreign animated films, from the French film Ernest & Celestine (2012), the Irish film Song of the Sea (2014) and many of the prior Studio Ghibli films including From Up on Poppy Hill (2011) and the Tale of Princess Kaguya (2013) [which hits U.S. shelves this month on DVD and BluRay].

When Marnie Was There is directed by Hiromasa Yonebayashi, known for directing the previous ghibli film The Secret World of Arrietty (2010). Marnie is centered on a 12-year-old girl by the name of Anna Sasaki. She is a foster kid who spends much of her time alone, until she moves to the countryside and meets a mysterious girl named Marnie who lives in the old house on the marsh.

When Marnie Was There (2014) ©Studio Ghibli
When Marnie Was There (2014) ©Studio Ghibli

While I have not yet had the pleasure of seeing When Marnie Was There for myself, I have read the novel, watched the Japanese trailer over thirty times and listened to the magnificent soundtrack from Priscilla Ahn and score by Takatsugu Muramatsu on repeat for days on end. When Marnie Was There tells a story from the perspective of a child in great depth and detail, much like Ghibli’s prior films, however, this time it deals with a more poignant look at isolation and depression.

With one listen of the title theme Fine On the Outside, written and sung by Priscilla Ahn, it is clear what the main character, Anna, is feeling. “I never had that many friends growing up, so I learned to be…okay with just me, just me, just me. And I’ll be fine on the outside.” The song continues on with a sense of loneliness and isolation. “Would you cry if I died, would you remember my face.” You can give it a listen for yourself right here. More interesting is that the song was not simply written for the film, but submitted for consideration. It was actually written by the artist when she was in high school, based upon her own experiences.

When Marnie Was There (2014) ©Studio Ghibli
When Marnie Was There (2014) ©Studio Ghibli

The soundtrack features additional similar tracks by Ahn, such as I Am Not Alone, Deep Inside My Heart and You’re a Star.

The film even presents lines straight from the character of Anna, such as the one where she is seen sitting on a bench sketching as other girls play in the distance. “There is a magical circle in this world that no one can see. Those girls are in the circle, and then there’s me, on the outside. But I don’t care about any of that. I hate myself.”

When Marnie Was There (2014) ©Studio Ghibli
When Marnie Was There (2014) ©Studio Ghibli

I found it so intriguing to have a character be presented so clearly as being depressed in an animated film. Though this isn’t uncommon in Japanese animation. We see similar feelings and expressions in many films, such as Colorful (2010) or Neon Genesis Evangelion. Another example is the Australian stop-motion animated film Mary & Max (2009), which even shows concepts of suicide. What makes Marnie different is the fact that its target audience is primarily children, though animation in countries outside of the U.S. are not often shoved into confining categories as being “for kids,” like they are in the U.S.

However, there was quite a hubub with the recent Walt Disney Animation Studios film Frozen (2013) and how people believed it accurately portrayed concepts of depression, anxiety and PTSD. Many who suffer from depression found the character of Elsa highly relatable. It may have been a huge part of why she has become so popular with the teenaged audience. With quotes from her featured song like, “Conceal, don’t feel, don’t let it show,” it’s hard not to view it as an allegory. [Elsa’s depression and anxiety was later officially confirmed by one of the films directors on twitter].

Frozen (2013) ©Walt Disney Animation Studios
Frozen (2013) ©Walt Disney Animation Studios

What is also interesting (but essentially expected) is the fact that while Frozen was an extreme box office success for Walt Disney Animation Studios, When Marnie Was There was pretty much the opposite for Studio Ghibli. The quaint and quiet nature of the film had a hard time competing with the intense, dramatic, musical, CGI, box office champion when it premiered in Japanese cinemas so close to its release.

This is also suggested to have been a reason behind the closure of the animation department at Studio Ghibli. No more films will be releasing for quite some time and the studio will focus solely on its distribution rights, products and museum.

I made sure to snatch a few When Marnie Was There items (actually I asked my friends mom if she could pick them up while she was visiting Japan). They’re quite lovely.

What do you think of When Marnie Was There and depression in animation? Does the film look interesting to you? Do you think it’s okay to show children these concepts? I’ll leave you with that, and my own sketchbook doodle of Anna and Marnie below!

Until next time!

illustration by Damian Alexander (2014)
illustration by Damian Alexander (2014)


Love, To and From Laika Studios

Recently Laika Studios released their third film, The Boxtrolls, which of course I saw on opening day. It was a good trek to the cinema… two hours on the bus right after my last class on a Friday. Of course I saw it by myself (I didn’t want any distractions!).

Coraline (2009) ©Laika and Focus Features

For those of you unfamiliar, Laika Studios is a small animation studio in Portland, Oregon. They had their feature debut in 2009 with the film adaptation of the Neil Gaiman novel Coraline. [Making of Coraline Featurette]. The studio specializes in stop-motion animation, which is often said to be a “dying art form.” Stop-motion animation is when one moves an object (primarily a puppet) inch by inch, snapping photographs of each miniscule movement. Then the frames are run together to give the objects life. Interesting huh? Anyway, The Boxtrolls was a beautifully animated masterpiece. It is currently nominated for an Academy Award! (along side The Tale of Princess Kaguya, Song of the Sea, Big Hero 6 and How to Train Your Dragon 2). You can watch one of my favorite featurettes from The Boxtrolls right here: [The Boxtrolls –  Let’s Dance]. It shows us how the ballroom scene was created.

ParaNorman (2012) ©Laika and Focus Features

While I may not have personally loved The Boxtrolls as much as I love their previous films Coraline and ParaNorman, simply because it’s hard to top perfection (haha!). Seriously, I had just found those two more relatable to myself growing up as they were modern kids in modern times with fantasy overlining their reality. A magical realism so to speak.

The Boxtrolls was essentially pure fantasy, which isn’t bad…it was just different than their previous work. Though that has sort of become Laika’s theme. It was to say the least, a marvelously crafted film with excellent character design and miraculously detailed worlds. They are positively breathtaking to say the least, especially after watching how all of the scenes were constructed, each piece created individually by hand, each character moved painstakingly inch by inch. [The Boxtrolls – Nature of Creation].

Of course, I regularly blog about Laika Studios on my tumblr account (click here for some of those). I assume this must be the reason why a mysterious package showed up at my door one day. What was in this package? I was expecting another promo item, as they have sent me a few of those. The first of which was in 2012 just before the release of their second film ParaNorman. (post on that here). However, this one was different. Nobody had contacted me beforehand, the box showed up unlabeled, aside from the fact that it had been sent from Portland, which gave me a little clue. Well, a pretty big clue. I proceeded to open it and find that it was filled with nothing less than real, authentic props used in the actual Boxtrolls film.

To hold a real, actual piece from one of these films was amazing. There were tiny bits of cheese that filled the tables in the party sequence, tiny wine bottles, of course boxes… and even a piece of the sidewalk! I think I actually found the scene one of the pieces may have been used in!

I also made a video to give a little bit of a closeup of the props, as well as several of my other Laika items including art books, DVDs, promo items and so forth. [watch it right here]. It was quite possibly one of the best things that ever happened to me in all of my life. Now these props and pieces sit in a collection on my shelf, which has now essentially a shrine to Laika and all of their work. boxtrolls stuff The Boxtrolls is now available on DVD and DVD/BluRay Combo pack. There is also a recently released combo pack that includes all three Laika films together! I’m not saying you have to get it, I’m just suggesting you should. boxtrolls dvd

LAIKA/house Creative Challenge – September 2012

This is my entry for the September 2012 LAIKA/house (the people who made ParaNorman and Coraline) Creative Challenge.

The challenge was to create a character “Missing from ParaNorman” and so I decided to create the mentioned (but never shown and nameless) character of Mitch’s boyfriend. If you haven;t seen ParaNorman,it is a stop-motion animated zombie comedy for kids that is defiantly more than the trailers let on. [trailer] Mitch is a big jock and at the end of the film it was revealed that he has a boyfriend in the line “my boyfriend is a chickflick nut!” this actually lead to a bit of controversy from hateful, repressive parental units.

Meet Trent. He is a lanky, awkward teenager who spends a little too much time watching movies, reading and playing video games. He likes to watch “chick-flicks” because they give him a good cry as he’s mildly emotionally tormented. The simple mind of his boyfriend helps straighten out his stress and sadness. He likes Elvis, cartoons and says “Dude,” a lot. He was cut because he wasn’t necessary to the initial plot of the story and might have caused a bit more controversy then any one animation company could handle just now. He was also busy at a comic convention in New York City.

I decided to have Trent over Mitch’s shoulder because of the way he does this with his little brother during the film. (Also, I did not win the contest).

The Wonderful World of Stop-Motion

Stop-motion will remain one of the most beautiful methods of story telling. I think what makes it stand out so much is the fact that these characters we see on the screen, exist. Though every character we see exists you have to stop and think, when the film is live action and the actor steps off the set they’re no longer that character. They’re that actor again, plain and simple. And with 2D and CG animation the character doesn’t go beyond being more than just a picture or a rendering inside the computer. But with stop-motion, you see, they exist. The character is there just about forever. They existed and do exist and their whole world somehow exists. It’s just truly remarkable.

The images featured above are owned by Disney, Laika, 20th Century Fox etc.