When Marnie Was There – Review

It appears even the western world has become familiar with Miyazaki’s cutesy characters, enduring stories and magical universes – and quite rightly so. When such a Studio as Ghibli decides to branch out and focus on something a tad more human, the likes of Only Yesterday (1991) and My Neighbours the Yamadas (1999) spring to mind, it can take a minute or two to adjust. Yet, adjust rather quickly we will to Arrietty (2010) director, Hiramasa Yonebayashi who skillfully paves the way with a poignant and full of heart tale with an Eastern take on Joan G. Robinson’s novel, When Marnie was There.

First penned in 1967, Yonebayashi brings this British tale to rural Japan, where chronic asthma sufferer and somewhat of a troubled 12 year old tomboy Anna is sent to stay with relatives in the hope of replacing the smog of Tokyo with clean air. With nothing but heightened emotions and fits of misunderstanding, this adolescent becomes bewitched by an abandoned mansion which quickly leads to an infatuated with the elegant, yet disobedient Marnie who seems to resides there. The concept of imaginary friends is well and truly ingrained into every culture. Here in Marnie, there is a fine line between the mind playing tricks on you and the saddening truth of Anna’s current state.

Dazzling animation fronts this friendship fueled narrative. The studio’s hand drawn and intricate approach to the art enhances this story so much more than if it were live action, which adds to this simple, yet deeply meaningful message that resides at the centre of Marnie.  This is nothing other than a powerful female friendship and take from it what you will, it’s beautiful, it’s real and it’s meaningful however it is meant to translate. At time this is unbelievably enchanting and the fact that this is done on human interaction only illustrates just how darn good they are at getting their point across. The film tackles the everyday struggles of teenage girls and the harsh truths that most young girls will utterly deny whilst  still embracing the person you truly are and realising what the world has in store. But, just as Anna discovers, things will eventually stop spinning so fast.  For something that was written in the late 60’s, this certainly transfers on screen and every teenage girl is sure to connect with the expressive Anna on some plane.

Some may instantly disregard this due to its seemingly slow delivery and overly emotional dialogue; yet this only accentuates how our natural surroundings can aid in eliminating the problems the universe throws us. Even if the many dream-like sequences are placed to throw us off course, this is not a scary ghost story, and what we have here is a clever child’s film that adults will undoubtedly gain more from. The crazy and terribly stereotypical Oiwas bring much needed comic relief, offering us chortles of laughter when we, along with Anna, greatly need them. A nice twist leaves you feeling warm and glowing, desperately trying to fight back a few tears as the credits roll. An altogether rather downbeat tale of a girl who simply can’t find her place in the world that carefully offers messages of concern, but also offers much joy and copious amounts of hope simultaneously.

This isn’t as awe consuming as the various Miyazaki adventures we have witnessed over the years. Marnie takes a much more delicate form and reaches out to us humans in an unexplainable manner. Every emotion flies through you, just as Marnie flies through the depressed Anna. The sad and unbearable thought that this may be the Studio’s final production makes this all the more hard hitting – a high note to end on, that’s for certain. Sheer wonderment consumes you with every bite of this one.

A curious thing it is, that Ghibli, no matter what they touch, always manage to tug on every sentiment possible and does so with utter ease – a mystery, it seems, that is better left kept a secret.


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