When Marnie Was There is a moving, beautiful picture which stands as a great reminder why they’ll always be a place for traditional animation in cinema.
Based on the book of the same name, the legendary Japanese animation studio, Studio Ghibli, transplant the original story from Norfolk to Japan where we meet Anna (Sara Takatsuki/Hailee Steinfeld), a difficult girl grappling with the ‘burden’ of being a foster child.
Suffering from asthma and a growing depression, she travels to her aunt and uncle in the countryside which complicates her abandonment issues and sees her slide deeper into depression.
But upon meeting the mysterious Marnie (Kasumi Arimura/Kiernan Shipka) Anna’s life begins to get a little better now she’s got a best friend.
Marnie is a particularly difficult film to talk about, both because it would be horrible to spoil the film for anyone but also because the themes of the film so clearly deal with the supposed closure of those who created it, Studio Ghibli.
While watching it you can’t help but that feel that the artistic but excluded Anna represents the fabled studio, while those who find themselves ‘inside the circle’ represents the polished western animation houses who’ve grown in popularity over the last few years.
All this aside, Marnie is a wonderful film, managing to be moving, amusing and exciting, which is no small feat for a film dealing with a young girl drowning in her own sorrow.
It would’ve been easy for Ghibli to make Marnie mawkish and depressing but instead it feels like a celebration of both life and the studio which produced it.
Arguably the relationship between the titular Marnie and our protagonist Anna is at the heart of this piece, and I challenge anyone to watch this film and not well up in the final act, as the borders between the magical and the very real begin to blur.
To say the animation is gorgeous is to do it a disservice, it is beyond beautiful with the usual attention to detail and flourishes, including; the reverence for nature, wonderful character design and a touch of unquantifiable magic that Ghibli brings to everything it touches.
If I had any complaints it would be that Ghibli have set expectations so high with their previous work it means that Marnie doesn’t quite reach the lofty heights of My Neighbor Totoro or Howl’s Moving Castle, but it’s still an amazing piece of work that needs to be seen on the big screen.
With the retirement of studio co-founder Hayao Miyazaki and the studio’s temporary production hiatus, Marnie may be the last feature film that the studio ever produces which would be a great shame, but Marnie would be a worthy final work.
When Marnie Was There may not be vintage Ghibli but it’s a wonderful picture and a fitting swansong for the legendary studio which’ll be greatly missed should it not open its doors again.