Director: Hiromasa Yonebayashi
Animated film review by Colin Lomas
The rising emotional detachment of daughter Anna persuades her adoptive mother to reluctantly send the young girl to relatives in the countryside for the summer in an attempt to instil some joy back into her life. Anna endeavours to avoid the other local children, preferring instead to wander alone, sketching landscapes. On one of her journeys she discovers an old abandoned lake house to which she is mysteriously drawn. At night the lake house inexplicably transforms into the opulent residence of an affable young blonde girl called Marnie. Anna and Marnie becomes best friends, meeting every evening, and while Anna struggles to understand Marnie’s semi-existence, she starts to uncover secrets about her new pal and becomes determined to unravel the mystery.
What Studio Ghibli have always done so well is to perfectly understand the complexities of a young mind. Anna’s abandonment issues and unbearable loneliness are truly touching. Given the depth and development she achieves during the film, if this were a live action piece Anna would be up for every acting award available. The tenderness Yonebayashi applies to Anna’s emotional predicament shows a level of mastery and emotive understanding rarely found in film. Marnie’s supposed freedom and happiness is also loaded with a sense of increasing melancholy as the girls start to prise information out of each other. The storyline itself is a joy. The enigmatic nature of the girl’s relationship is utterly addictive and the constant need to explore and discover more about the mystery borders on desperation. Yet When Marnie Was There rarely rushes along; it always manages to take a well-timed step back to present the beautiful Anime visualisations which make Ghibli so unique and striking. There is a moment towards the end when secrets are revealed a little too quickly during a swift monologue, but the final revelations soon quash any negative feelings of inappropriate alacrity.
When Marnie Was There feels like the second side of Abbey Road; a medley of everything great which came before. It is a masterpiece of tear-jerking mysteriousness which exhibits with pinpoint accuracy the seemingly unachievable desires and overriding dilemmas of being a troubled child. Like the freshness one of film’s countless thunderstorms leaves across its meadows, When Marnie Was There will invigorate your sensitivity to the world and force you to consent to a joyfully increased emotional focus when leaving the cinema. If this is indeed the last Ghibli movie after the retirement of genius Hayao Miyazaki then it’s a sad but fitting end to a studio which has given the world some of the greatest animated films in history. You get the feeling though that Ghibli is a beast which will refuse to lie dormant for long.