A quietly moving and melancholic outsider tale
There are many reasons this film will leave you sobbing. First of all this may just be Studio Ghibli’s last film, at least for long while, if not ever. What an extraordinary note to go out on. When Marnie Was There is prime Ghibli, top-standard and the epitome of the brilliance the Japanese anime powerhouse is capable of. It also happens to be their most understated film yet.
Anna (Sara Takatsuki/Hailee Steinfeld) is a 12-year old girl living with her foster parents in Sapporo. They are growing very concerned about Anna, fearing that she is becoming distant and hiding her emotions. Her mother uses the phrase ‘ordinary face’ to describe this – as it appears that Anna is concealing how she feels from the rest of the world. After she collapses from asthma attack at school her depression appears to worsen so her parents decide to send her to spend the summer with their relatives who live in a nearby seaside town. Anna’s unhappiness continues to linger although she continues to find a degree of solace in sketching. One day she stumbles across a dilapidated mansion and its youngest resident – Marnie (Kasumi Arimura/Kiernan Shipka), a blonde girl roughly the same age as Anna. A firm friendship forms between the pair – yet the unhappiness that unites them may just be the thing that keeps them apart.
I emerged from the cinema (big up Prince Charles cinema!) to a still-relatively sunny day. Yet as I walked across central London over to Waterloo it started to rain – tiny drops hurriedly fell from the sky yet it was still sunny and warm as the smell of petrichor filled the air. It was the perfect weather to emerge into after watching this film as it sums up the actual watching experience – invigorating, peaceful and calm. It’s such a lovely film that is happy-sad. A bit like life itself really.
The fact Marnie is a mysterious girl from the west adds an element previously unused by the studio. Marnie is a fascinating character, one of the best to come out from 31 years of Ghibli. The fact that her true nature – is she a ghost? a hallucination? a projection of self? an echo of the past? – is withheld adds mystery to proceedings. In fact it makes the film rather mythical, with Anna’s fantastical journey constantly crossing the boundaries between reality and fantasy. Suspense is built through this uncertainty, providing both the audience and Anna herself with danger and excitement.
Anna is another wonderful addition to the studio, a true outsider who feels like she does not belong to the ‘circle’ that normal people belong to. She desperately wishes to be ‘normal’, her self-loathing pushing everyone around her further and further away. This film deserves much plaudit not just for showcasing a portrayal of mental health but presenting it in a way that is heartfelt, tender and non-judgemental.
For you anime aficionados out there I have only seen the sub version (which was wonderful) so am unable to comment on the dub version. However, general conscious online appears to be that the sub version is superior (i.e both a perfection, only one a little bit less). I could spend hundreds of words talking about the animation itself but I won’t. Just watch the film. It speaks for itself. The colour and visual style is utterly mesmerising whilst never detracting attention for the story. Only enhancing.
A poignant tale of loss and friendship, an exquisite tale of battling loneliness to find happiness. A truly satisfying and heartfelt watch.