When Marnie Was There
Directed by Hiromasa Yonebayashi
Based on the novel by Joan G. Robinson
Japanese voice acting by Sara Takatsuki, Kasumi Arimura, Susumu Terajima, Toshie Negishi
English voice acting by Hailee Steinfeld, Kiernan Shipka, John C. Reilly, Grey DeLisle
Review by Jordan
“Please Anna, promise me something… that we’ll remain a secret, forever.”
The release of When Marnie Was There in 2014 signalled a significant event for Japan’s Studio Ghibli, with Hiromasa Yonebayashi’s second film following the splendid Arrietty (2010) ushering him in as the successor to the revered Hayao Miyazaki, the studio’s co-founder.
Miyazaki’s outro to an incredible career was the beloved The Wind Rises (2013), itself released not long before Isao Takahata’s final film The Tale of the Princess Kaguya, bestowing Yonebayashi with great expectations and responsibility. Thankfully, through this enchanting tale of self-discovery and unconditional love, that treads a delicate path in portraying the intense feelings of childhood, it’s very clear that the future of the studio is in good hands.
Anna is a 12 year old girl living on the outside of an invisible circle. In a painful moment of truth, she forcibly snaps the lead of her pencil while sketching and prior to suffering an asthma attack declares that she hates herself. Worried about the absence of happiness seen in her, and based on advice from the doctor, Anna’s mother sends her to stay with her relatives in the countryside for the summer – hopeful that the clean air will see her recover. There, she is inexplicably drawn to an old marsh house, and begins a close friendship with the mysterious girl who lives there: Marnie.
The two keep their meetings a closely guarded secret, as Anna is introduced to the extravagant world of her new friend; one with grand parties and moments of tremendous freedom. As they begin to share their closely guarded fears though, Anna must consider who Marnie really is, and if she is even real at all…
Less fantastical than most of its predecessors, When Marnie Was There instead uses its fantasy elements to convey the irrepressible sensations of childhood memories, and what it really means to be a part of a loving family. Before meeting Marnie, Anna endures a severe sense of isolation – longing for a “normal life every day” and lashing out at those around her, but her heart is stirred in part by the kindness of strangers and ultimately something much deeper.
This beautiful tale is told with appropriately lush visual flair, from Marnie’s windswept long blonde hair in the moonlight to the haunted silo towering over the coast. Images are created that stand with the most memorable yet produced, and Anna’s complexities and desires see her able to stand alongside the finest young heroines Miyazaki has introduced. In adapting a novel regarded highly difficult to translate to film, the denouement is a little rushed and able to be deciphered earlier, but everything surrounding it is so emotionally deep it hardly seems to matter.
Although on a hiatus, sublime films such as this highlight why Studio Ghibli means so much to so many, with stories that capture the essence of discovery and the fabric of our connections with others. When Marnie Was There is brave, truthful and exquisite.