When Marnie Was There (reviews - page 1)

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This page lists information about reviews for the film When Marnie Was There.


Arizona Republic

4 June 2015

Review: 'When Marnie Was There' a quiet, hand-drawn pleasure

By Kerry Lengel

A melancholy British tale about a friendly ghost may be the swan song of Studio Ghibli, the anime studio widely hailed as Japan's Disney.

The company halted production, ostensibly temporarily, last year after the retirement of Hayao Miyazaki, the legendary director of "Princess Mononoke," "Spirited Away" and "Howl's Moving Castle," among many others. The final feature film in the queue: "When Marnie Was There," directed by Miyazaki protege Hiromasa Yonebayashi ("The Secret World of Arrietty").

The film is based on the 1967 children's novel by English author Joan G. Robinson, about a lonely orphan named Anna who is sent away for the summer to a sleepy seaside village. There, in the marshes, she meets Marnie, an unfailingly kind girl with gorgeous golden locks who seems to live in an abandoned mansion. Their bond is instant, but just as quickly it becomes clear that Marnie is no ordinary girl.

It's a sweet story but also predictably familiar, and "Marnie" might seem a bit ho-hum in comparison with the wonderful weirdness of "Spirited Away," not to mention the hyperactive razzle-dazzle of most American animation these days.

Indeed, the plot is a bit thin even in comparison with a previous generation of children's stories, such as as "The Secret Garden," with which "Marnie" shares much thematic and tonal DNA.

But to those film lovers attuned to quiet moments and emotional nuance, this film has a shine all its own. The old-school hand-drawn animation celebrates sweeping landscapes and but also the telling detail, revealing character through spare gestures.

For example, we don't get much background on Setsu and Kiyomasa, the kindly couple who take Anna in for the summer, but we learn plenty from her crinkly smiling eyes and his steady gaze, a contrast with the wobbly-eyed owl figurines that he crafts out of wood.

Supernatural elements aside, the heart of the story is a portrait of a frightened girl who learns to heal her fragile heart by building connections, both to her past and to the community around her. There are no princesses, monsters or castles in the sky, but that doesn't mean there is no magic.

Note: This review is of the U.S. release in Japanese with English subtitles. "When Marnie Was There" also is being shown in a dubbed version with a voice cast including Hailee Steinfeld as Anna and Kiernan Shipka as Marnie, along with Kathy Bates, John C. Reilly, Vanessa Williams, Ellen Burstyn and Geena Davis.

AV Club

28 May 2015

When Marnie Was There is Studio Ghibli’s emotional but mechanical goodbye

By Jesse Hassenger

There’s a lovely and fitting simplicity in 12-year-old Anna emerging as the heroine of When Marnie Was There, the last film from Japan’s Studio Ghibli animation house. (The company has placed production on hiatus while it reorganizes following the retirement of Hayao Miyazaki). Anna (voiced in the U.S. dub by Hailee Steinfeld) keeps to herself, distanced from the adoptive mother who she only calls “auntie,” and likes to draw, seeming to prefer the company of her sketch pad to most people. Early in the movie, she has an asthma attack, though the “condition” her foster parents refer to could easily be depression or social anxiety. The movie spends a lot of time with Anna on her own, wriggling out of social obligations and shunning any potential friends or sidekicks. It’s a portrait of a lonely artist as a young girl.

Following her asthma attack, Anna’s worried parents send her to spend the summer out of town with relatives and breathe some fresher air. Wandering around rural Kushiro, Anna discovers a seemingly abandoned mansion across the marsh, and with it the mysterious Marnie (Mad Men’s Kiernan Shipka in the U.S. dub), a blond-haired girl her own age. Anna and Marnie fall into an intense, immediate friendship, sneaking off to share what Marnie calls their “precious secret,” which mainly consists of them hanging around the marsh and asking each other limited questions about their lives. The mix of secrecy and intimacy is touching, especially because the movie has paid so much attention to Anna’s moody self-loathing—it’s almost a third of the way through before Marnie appears.

It’s clear early on that Marnie, who has a habit of disappearing and reappearing suddenly, may not be a normal 12-year-old. There are faint Cinderella overtones, with a temporarily lost shoe and a beautiful ball. But When Marnie Was There never crosses into fairy-tale territory; little of it really requires animation to tell its story the way Disney or even other Ghibli productions often do. Instead, the painterly animation style gives Anna’s summer a slightly dreamlike quality, as director Hiromasa Yonebayashi (The Secret World Of Arrietty) effectively blurs the lines between the unfamiliarity of a new place and the otherworldly quality of a child’s imagination.

That imagination is where the movie falls short of some of its studio stablemates. Eventually, Anna takes a more active role in figuring out where her new friend comes from, and the answers she finds should pack considerable feeling. But the revelations often feel more technical than emotional—particularly in the way the movie withholds information from both its characters and the audience before releasing it in a flood of exposition. That strategy relies on a degree of calculation imposed on ideas of memory and loss, and while nitpicking the logic of a fable-like story may be foolish, some details of Marnie’s backstory don’t make a lot of sense.

In its final stretch, it starts feeling like Yonebayashi is working from a poignancy checklist. As much as Studio Ghibli movies have a reputation among animation fans for being more sophisticated than the average American studio cartoon, When Marnie Was There only goes so far in that department. As a children’s movie, it’s uncommonly sensitive and complicated, rooted in relationships rather than dazzling action. But adults may notice its simple poetry turning, after a while, to suds.

Boston Globe

4 June 2015

‘When Marnie Was There’: The wonder, and terror, of being 12

By Peter Keough

Hiromasa Yonebayashi’s luminous, unsettling “When Marnie Was There” evokes Alfred Hitchcock, and not just because of the title. The animated story of troubled 12-year-old Anna (Sara Takatsuki in the subtitled version I viewed), who visits a spooky mansion inhabited by the elusive “Alice in Wonderland”-like girl of the title (Kasumi Arimura), is at times like a YA version of “Rebecca” (1940). Based on Joan G. Robinson’s 1967 novel, the story springs to vivid life through Yonebayashi’s exquisitely detailed, achingly atmospheric hand-drawn animation.

As in his previous film “The Secret World of Arietty” (2010), Yonebayashi demonstrates here that he is as a much a master of numinous realism as fellow Studio Ghibli artist Hayao Miyazaki is a genius of the surreal and fantastic. Though the narrative of “Marnie” bogs down toward the end, this does not diminish its spell.

Things don’t look very magical in the beginning, however, as Anna sits alone, away from her raucous fellow students, during recess. “There is an inside and outside,” she says in voice-over, as she draws the scene on her sketchpad. “And I am outside.” Then she collapses into a fit of asthmatic self-loathing. Many 12-year-olds, and former 12-year-olds, can sympathize.

Anna, though, suffers an extreme case of depressive social withdrawal, due in part to a back story that is gradually disclosed. Her foster mother follows a doctor’s advice and sends her to the seaside home of relatives, Kiyomasa (Susumu Terajima), a good-natured maker of toys and gimcracks, and his wife, Setsu (Toshie Negishi), a portly, maternal type with a big, sometimes annoying laugh.

Despite the warm welcome, Anna feels estranged. “This smells like a stranger’s home,” she says to herself, an example of dialogue that is sometimes as strikingly acute as the imagery. But her moodiness melts when she looks below at the radiant coastline, rendered with saturated, subtle colors and a minutely precise mise-en-scene. And later, when she gazes across the shallows, the wind rustling her hair and the reeds, and sees the Marsh House, abandoned but still grand, a place she feels she’s seen before. But the house isn’t always derelict; sometimes it comes alive. Like the girls in Miyazaki’s “Spirited Away” (2001) and Henry Selick’s “Coraline” (2009), Anna has stumbled into a secret realm. Blond, blue-eyed Marnie, a girl as lonely as she, introduces Anna to a Marsh House full of period partiers reminiscent of those in the Overlook Hotel from “The Shining” (1980).

Is it a dream or a portal into a ghostly dimension? The satisfaction of the explanation, as is often the case, does not equal the chill of the mystery. But Yonebayashi has touched on the greater mystery underlying everyday life, a world pulsing with wonder and possibility, edged with a shadow of melancholy.

Chicago Reader

When Marnie Was There

By J.R. Jones

Japan's acclaimed animation outfit Studio Ghibli has always been defined by the extravagant, strongly Eastern visions of Hayao Miyazaki (Howl's Moving Castle), though the newer generation of Ghibli animators, operating under tighter financial constraints, aims for a more international audience and more modestly scaled expressions of childhood wonder. Miyazaki protege Hiromasa Yonebayashi made his feature directing debut with The Secret World of Arrietty (2010), adapted from the British children's book The Borrowers, and this emotionally resonant second feature takes its story from another such title, by Joan G. Robinson. A 12-year-old foster child, plagued by asthma and abandonment issues, journeys to the coastal city of Kushiro to board with an aunt and uncle, and while investigating a mysterious mansion on the water, she's befriended by a beautiful blond girl who may be a ghost. In Japanese with subtitles.


20 May 2015

‘When Marnie Was There’ Review: The Ghost and the Wistfulness

Mystery and loneliness take center stage in a beautiful supernatural drama from Studio Ghibli.

By William Bibbiani

Very young children may be a bit hazy about the definition of melancholy, but that doesn’t mean they can’t feel it in their bones. When Marnie Was There may help put it into words for them. Studio Ghibli has made a lucrative industry out of making movies for that respect the intelligence of kids, but rarely have they – or anyone else – so emphatically captured the chilling loneliness of youth, and the sneaking, resonant suspicion that maybe you aren’t wanted.

Based on the novel by Joan G. Robinson, When Marnie Was There opens with 12-year-old Anna, isolated from her peers and rejecting the love of her foster parents after she suffers an asthma attack. She doesn’t hug them, she only apologizes that they have to pay her hospital bills. Not knowing what to do, Anna’s parents take her doctor’s advice and send her to live with relatives for the summer, in a sleepy town next to a marsh, where a dilapidated mansion catches Anna’s fancy in a way none of the local children can.

In this dreamy old relic, bordered by a rising tide that carries the path away every night, Anna finds strange solace. Unexpectedly, she also finds a young girl named Marnie, who claims to live there even though it’s obviously uninhabitable. Except there are parties there every night, and servants who abuse young Marnie in ways that shock Anna. The two of them repeatedly abscond, bonding together in clandestine communions, in the wee hours of the evening.

Writer/director Hiromasa Yonebayashi (The Secret World of Arrietty) lets the mysteries linger, until even Anna can’t quite trust her senses. As she wonders whether Marnie is the product of an under-stimulated imagination, or of severe mental illness, the viewer is encouraged to search for other clues. The supernatural is a damp presence that permeates When Marnie Was There, sinking into the locations, and infecting the mind. The sound of rain thumping against the moldy wooden planks in the eerie, dreadful silo fills the soundtrack until everything around Anna, Marnie and the viewer feels soaked. Possibly in tears.

And yet, as elegiac as When Marnie Was There is, there is an unmistakable sense that this story is only reaching out from the past to hold us tightly. Anna’s increasingly pained midnight meetings with Marnie take on a tragic and abandoned quality, and we see her working through very real emotional issues with the benefit of what may be a ghost, what may be a memory, and what may be a hallucination. Marnie is someone Anna needs, real or figment, and although Hiromasa Yonebayashi never quite answers the question of what is really going on, he does finally answer why, in a series of revelations that are probably unnecessarily detailed, but as heartfelt and beautiful as anything Studio Ghibli has ever produced.

When Marnie Was There has a magical quality that only the best children’s literature can evoke: the sense that childhood is larger than life and far more mysterious than adults probably remember. This film is a candle in the dark, guiding the viewer with little flickers to our ultimate destination; hopefully fulfillment, but at least a greater understanding. It’s an act of love that could only stem from understanding precisely what it means to feel unloved. A deeply wonderful experience.

The Dissolve

21 May 2015

When Marnie Was There

By Tasha Robinson

There’s been plenty of fuss and fury over the possible shutdown of Japan’s revered Studio Ghibli following the retirement of its founding animators, Hayao Miyazaki (My Neighbor Totoro, Spirited Away, Princess Mononoke, The Wind Rises) and Isao Takahata (Grave Of The Fireflies, The Tale Of The Princess Kaguya). Ghibli reps have clarified that the studio isn’t going away, it’s just reorganizing and reducing staff, a necessary business reality given that Ghibli’s Miyazaki-directed movies far out-earned its non-Miyazaki movies. It’s still possible there will eventually be more Ghibli features. It’s just hard to imagine that a reduced studio staff could keep up the lavish, loving quality of When Marnie Was There, the last movie on Ghibli’s animation docket. Like so many Ghibli features, Marnie is an accomplished animated showcase. But this time, the images seem particularly lustrous, the colors especially rich. If the studio has to cut back from here, at least it’s set yet another high-water mark before the tides recede.

Marnie, like Ghibli’s The Secret World Of Arrietty and Howl’s Moving Castle before it, is based on a beloved British children’s book—in this case, Joan G. Robinson’s 1967 novel about an orphan who befriends a mysterious stranger. In this adaptation, the orphan is Anna Sasaki, a withdrawn, asthmatic schoolgirl stricken with self-loathing after she learns that her adoptive parents are receiving a government stipend for her care. She’s convinced they don’t love her because she’s ugly, unpleasant, and damaged, and when her adoptive mother (whom she calls “Auntie” exclusively) sends her to the country for a short period to improve her asthma, Anna believes she’s being dumped out of spite. Then she meets a mysterious blonde girl living in a vast house on a marsh. While Anna is sullen and awkward around most people her age, the two girls instantly connect, with Anna obsessing about spending time with Marnie, and consciously ignoring the fact that Marnie keeps disappearing inexplicably, or that Marsh House is sometimes dilapidated and deserted, and sometimes filled with light and life.

Anna’s explanation for these phenomena is surprising, and surprisingly practical, and it’s one of few surprises in a fairly straightforward story, familiar from a century or more of gothic literature. But in spite of the third-act reveal, Marnie isn’t really a movie about surprises. Like so many Ghibli films, it’s about the power of emotion. Anna’s transformation from faint-hearted and miserable to enthusiastic and engaged with the world closely mirrors the transformations other Ghibli heroines have gone through, from Chihiro in Spirited Away to Kiki in Kiki’s Delivery Service to Sofî in Howl’s Moving Castle. Her change in attitude changes her ability to perceive truths about the world she’s been unable to accept. Writer-director Hiromasa Yonebayashi (who also helmed Arrietty in 2010) and his co-writers, Ghibli vets Keiko Niwa and Masashi Ando, make this change feel natural and unforced, the product of a good example, growing wisdom, and a personal crisis.

But they also give Marnie its power by placing this simple Secret Garden-style story in the middle of an impeccably executed world, painted in glowing colors and in such fine detail that a random plant on a shelf can be identified by precise species. Everything about Marnie’s world feels heightened to the Platonic ideal of itself: When Anna’s plump aunt slices up a garden-fresh tomato, it compresses and bulges just slightly before the crisp skin gives way. A set of carved animals exhibit recognizable chisel marks and wood grain. Light shines through the thick panes of a glass-shaded lamp in ways that reveal the glass’ texture. This setting feels more real than reality does.

Marnie feels like a study in contrasts with the work of another great Japanese animator, Satoshi Kon: In films like Paprika, Millennium Actress, and Perfect Blue, Kon played with perception, shifting realities, and shock surrealism in the same way Marnie does here, for instance when Marnie deliberately steps off a cliff without falling to the rocks below, or Anna reaches for a memory, then finds herself elsewhere, with hours having mysteriously passed. But Kon played these sorts of shifts for disorienting impact, producing films that feel delightful but grotesque, ecstatic but nightmarish. Yonebayashi makes Marnie’s back-and-forth realities lulling instead, giving the film a melancholic feel that’s pure Ghibli—the bright, hot, disorienting feel of a dark dream had while napping in a sunny field.

This is the first Ghibli film without Miyazaki or Takahata’s credited involvement, but Miyazaki’s voice hangs recognizably in the air, and his design aesthetic is present in every character, and every richly painted, exquisitely textured backdrop. Marnie is smaller in scope than his films tended to be—there’s no obsession with soaring flight, no heavy moral dilemmas, no outsized fantasy elements. It’s a quiet film of modest narrative ambitions and simple shifts. But its technical and visual ambitions couldn’t be higher. It’s as if Ghibli is still trying to raise its own bar, so that even if it’s going out, it’s reminding viewers what they’d be missing.

Note: Ghibli has also produced an English-language dub, featuring Hailee Steinfeld and Kiernan Shipka as Anna and Marnie, with Ellen Burstyn, Kathy Bates, Geena Davis, Catherine O’Hara, and John C. Reilly in smaller roles. Both versions will play in U.S. theaters. Check with your local theater to see which one’s showing.

Eugene Film Society

14 July 2015

DAYDREAMER’S NOTEBOOK – When Marnie Was There (2014)

By Tatsuya Goto

When Marnie Was There is a milestone not only for Studio Ghibli and its fans, but anyone who enjoys quality films that can be shared with the entire family. It is the second feature film by Hiromasa Yonebayashi (The Secret World of Arietty, 2010), and the last movie from Studio Ghibli before its indefinite hiatus from feature filmmaking. While it is not exactly ‘young’ in terms of its content, it touches on an important theme of life that viewers of all ages should find deeply moving.

It tells a story of love and friendship between two young girls, Anna and Marnie. Anna is a 12 year-old girl who finds herself outside of ‘an invisible circle’ called humanity. She is intensely private, and her interactions with others are limited to the bare minimum. She hates her awkwardness, she hates the resulting alienation, and, most of all, she hates herself. One day, she suffers a severe asthma attack at school. A doctor recommends her mother to send Anna to the countryside in order to ease the stress arising from Anna’s social awkwardness. Anna stays with her uncle and aunt who live in a seaside village where she makes a fateful encounter with a mysterious foreign girl of her age, Marnie, whose friendship, for Anna, becomes her very reason to live. It is a wonderfully illustrated story of love, friendship, the importance of family ties, healing, and coming of age.

The above description fits just about every movie produced by Studio Ghibli. For example, Kiki’s Delivery Service is a coming-of-age story about a 13 year-old witch, who has to overcome her insecurities and confusions. Spirited Away’s Chihiro, Shizuku from Whisper of the Heart, Satsuki from My Neighbour Totoro, Taeko from Only Yesterday… all of these protagonists have to struggle with their insecurities to discover who they really are. Studio Ghibli has been consistently producing excellent coming-of-age stories, and Marnie seems to fit neatly into this tradition. Yet, remarkably, Marnie achieves what Miyazaki and Takahata attained in a very different way. For this reason, Marnie cannot be simply appreciated as the potentially ‘last feature movie’ from Studio Ghibli; it should be praised as a great film in its own right. So what makes Marnie a standout, even compared to the best of Ghibli’s features?

In this film, Yonebayashi decides to tackle the real darkness in life without compromise. There is simply no other film from Studio Ghibli, or any family features, that opens with such a sense of despair. The loneliness, the sense of unworthiness, and the resulting self-hatred Anna feels is expressed with a great urgency that it seems only a matter of time before Anna carries out her first suicide attempt. Anna’s departure to the remote village projects no excitement; instead, there is a sense of abandonment that cuts deep into her tender heart. While Anna occupies herself with drawing, unlike in Miyazaki films, the art does not bring any joy to this protagonist. Unlike in Takahata films, not even the natural beauty of this remote land can console her soul. In short, Anna represents a dire condition of the human soul which is rarely explored by film directors except Ingmar Bergman, who did so with great regularity. Life is a mere mortal coil for Anna, and she has no reason to live. She is barely hanging on, simply because she has not yet thought of the final exit as an option for her.

Very few family films have ever been allowed to express such despair. It is a courageous decision Yonebayashi commits himself to it, and it pays off; Marnie turns out to be one of the most emotionally authentic films I have ever seen. The way Anna is filmed excludes all sense of self-pity and indulgence. By looking her face, we receive her message clearly: The world is a better place without me. Yonebayashi succeeds in making us feel her pain and take it seriously. Only a few have ever achieved this feat in animated films. Takahata achieved this in The Tale of the Princess Kaguya, as well as Robert Kondo and Daisuke Tsutsumi with their excellent 2014 short The Dam Keeper. Still, Yonebayashi enjoys the distinction of telling a story of despair and redemption in a relatively realistic setting of contemporary Japan. Given that juvenile suicide has been a grave problem in post-WWII Japan, and it is becoming a serious concern globally, this achievement is of particular importance.

It is only through the friendship of Marnie that Anna finds a reason to live. Remarkably, the story of Marnie is not a happy one either; she faces a real darkness herself, yet she somehow finds her way to find joy in life. While Marnie appears more like a standard Studio Ghibli character — that is, charming, brave, and full of life — the sadness and despair she feels is just as real as Anna’s. And because the darkness experienced by these characters are genuine, the final redemption brings a truly exhilarating catharsis.

One might think that the twist of fate Anna and Marnie share is a very unlikely story in real life. I must refrain from giving a full argument in support of this narrative, thus I simply state this for the time being: this story takes a particular path to show one universal truth about the indispensable nature of love in our lives, and the way this story is told is not only justified, it is the true strength of this great movie.

After leaving the theater, I’m left wondering when we will be able to see the next movie by Yonebayashi. If you know anyone who might know this young director, pass this on:

Please continue. You are too good to quit.

Globe and Mail

29 May 2015

When Marnie Was There: Adaptation of a Joan G. Robinson ghost story

By Brad Wheeler

We may be seeing the last of Studio Ghibli, the beloved Japanese young-adult animation studio that signs off – at least temporarily – with When Marnie Was There, a reserved adaptation of a Joan G. Robinson ghost story.

The protagonist is young Anna, an artistic asthmatic introvert who is unable to reconcile her abandonment issues.

Her foster mother sends the gifted but troubled child from the city to spend the summer with relatives in Kushiro, a sleepy town with a distinctly British feel, complete with an enigmatic mansion on the marsh.

Anna’s ethnicity is ambiguous, but the manor’s ethereal blonde girl – Marnie, real or imagined – is fair-haired and impossible to mistake as Japanese.

The two bond; dreams and diaries give clues as to the nature of their unusual connection.

The artwork is simple and elegant; Anna’s fragility and self-loathing is portrayed clearly.

Forgiveness and a sense of belonging are dominant themes, but there are also thoughtful messages on family members – we’ll miss them when they’re gone.

The Hollywood Reporter

4 November 2014

'When Marnie Was There' ('Omoide no Mani'): Film Review

By Boyd van Hoeij

The latest — and perhaps last — feature from Studio Ghibli is an adaptation of Joan G. Robinson's eponymous novel and is directed by Hiromasa Yonebayashi

A lonely and introverted Japanese tomboy strikes up an unexpected friendship with a vision of blonde curls in When Marnie Was There (Omoide no Mani), the second feature of Arriety director Hiromasa Yonebayashi and reportedly the last feature film from Studio Ghibli for the foreseeable future. This adaptation of the eponymous 1967 Joan G. Robinson novel, which successfully substitutes coastal Hokkaido for the Norfolk seaside, is a beautifully animated tale of the growing friendship and occasionally rather cloying emotional travails of two 12-year-old girls, even though the Frozen effect didn’t quite repeat itself when Marnie was released in Japan last July, where it did respectable but not outstanding numbers. A French release in January will kick off the film’s international release schedule.

Anna (voiced by Sara Takatsuki) is a solitary schoolgirl in the big city whose asthma attacks make her foster mother (Nanako Matsushima) decide to let her spend the summer with her aunt (Susumu Terajima) and uncle (Toshie Negishi), who live in a house overlooking a picturesque bay in rural Hokkaido, Japan’s northernmost major island. Anna loves to sketch and is especially drawn to a stunning, if dilapidated, English-style country manor, Marsh House, that can be seen on the other side of the cove. It’s there that she’ll finally meet the mysterious Marnie (Kasumi Arimura), who says she lives there even though the place looks like it hasn’t been inhabited for years.

The first half-hour leisurely lays the groundwork for the film's unlikely central friendship between a people-shy and tormented young woman, who states out loud a little too often that she "hates herself," and the gorgeous vision that is Marnie. It helps that the two girls are almost polar opposites, with Anna a modern gamine with short dark hair and practical but not exactly pretty dungarees, while Marnie, with her long blonde curls and old-fashioned dresses, looks like a girl whose main inspiration for hair and clothes came out of a Fairytale Barbie catalog. Both, however, have blue eyes and childhood traumas that they can bond over.

Like in the other Ghibli features, there are no outright villains, though that doesn’t mean that everyone's always on their best behavior. There's also an impressive and scary intermezzo that starts off in Jane Eyre-mode and then morphs into something that can only be described as Ghibli Gothic. The film might have a female protagonist (or two) like many other anime films, such as A Letter to Momo (whose character designer, Masashi Ando, was the animator supervisor and one of the screenwriters on Marnie), but it is in imaginatively staged sequences such as these that suggest that Yonebayashi isn’t a simple Miyazaki clone but someone who's capable of working within a tradition while also bringing something of his own vision to the table.

It’s unclear in the beginning whether Marnie is an actual human being or a figment of the forlorn girl's dreams or imagination (Anna's first words to her future friend are actually: "Are you a real person, you look like a girl from my dreams?"). Yonebayashi underlines this ambiguity by keeping all the human characters in the usual, simplified style of all Ghibli films while depicting some small elements of the always more painterly backdrops — such as the weather-beaten wooden doors of the mansion where Marnie lives; the moss on a felled tree in the forest or the “lens flare” whenever the "camera" catches the sun — in something akin to photorealism. By doing this, the film plays with levels of reality in its visuals as well, further underlining the idea that some things that are imagined could actually feel or look more real than things that are not.

The narrative acrobatics of the last half-hour, needed to sort out both who Marnie really is and to fill in a lot of (read: too much) backstory that explains her connection to everyone in the story, might be a little much and a little fast for especially younger audiences. And the fact the film has more endings than The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King doesn’t help. But some of the feature's strongest sequences are embedded in this rapidly cascading back-and-forth between the past and the present, the real and the imaginary, including a dramatically staged scene in which Anna, tears streaming down her face, stands in the marshlands as the tide come in, and she has to shout over an upcoming storm to try and get some kind of closure with Marnie, who's locked herself into her bedroom on Marsh House's second floor.

The backgrounds that show off the Hokkaido countryside and marshes near the sea are often breathtaking, including on the many moonlit nights that Marnie and Anna secretly meet. Though not as ecology-minded as films such as Ponyo, When Marnie Was There does contain a positive message about the countryside, away from Anna's busy native city, Hokkaido's capital Sapporo, as a healthy and restorative place where the imagination is allowed to run wild and free as asthma attacks subside.

Accompanying all the action is Takatsugi Muramatsu’s glowing orchestral score, which only really oversteps in a generally too on-the-nose sequence in which the two preteen Bechdel test-passing protagonists have a serious heart-to-heart in the forest.

The Japan Times

9 July 2014

‘Omoide no Marnie (When Marnie Was There)’

By Mark Schilling

Since its start nearly three decades ago, Studio Ghibli has been dominated by the creativity of co-founders Hayao Miyazaki and Isao Takahata. But since the turn of the millennium, five of its 10 feature films have been made by other, younger directors.

One reason is that Ghibli releases about one film a year, but Miyazaki and Takahata preferred a more deliberate pace. The gap between the two most recent Takahata films was 14 years, while Miyazaki spent five years on his last full-length animation, 2013′s “Kaze Tachinu (The Wind Rises),” before announcing his retirement in September 2013. Ghibli seems to have prepared for the inevitable changing of the guard by giving its younger animators chances to direct.

One of those directors, Hiromasa Yonebayashi, had a hit in 2010 with “Karigurashi no Arrietty (Arrietty)” and now, with his new animation “Omoide no Marnie (When Marnie Was There),” he has made the first Ghibli film without Miyazaki or Takahata’s names anywhere on the credits. Based on a 1967 children’s book by British writer Joan G. Robinson, it is also the studio’s first film with two heroines: Anna (voiced by Sara Takatsuki), an unhappy 12-year-old orphan who calls her kindly adoptive mother “aunt,” and Marnie (Kasumi Arimura), an outgoing, if mysterious, blonde-haired girl who Anna befriends while spending a summer on the Hokkaido coast with her mother’s relatives.

It quickly becomes apparent, however, that Marnie is not what she seems and that the story will be more than an ode to budding female friendship. It is, instead, a hybrid that combines familiar Ghibli elements — from meticulously observed details to gorgeously realized landscapes — with a script by Yonebayashi that departs from the concerns and motifs Miyazaki made his signatures.

That is, he has not tried to make a Miyazaki film by proxy, and “Marnie” is all the better for it. If this film is indicative of Ghibli’s future direction, Miyazaki can rest easy in retirement. (Takahata, aged 78, has yet to call it quits.) At the same time, Yonebayashi is no Miyazaki-like genius transcending the limits of his material with daring imaginative flights; he has turned in a solid adaptation, squarely aimed at girls the same age as his heroines, made with the sort of tugs to the heartstrings Miyazaki disdained (though he has loudly praised the film to the media).

Anna is a sensitive, socially awkward loner who barely cracks a smile to the warm-hearted couple caring for her over the summer in their cozy Hokkaido cottage. She has come to them for relief from her chronic asthma and, her worried adoptive mother hopes, to make friends with the neighborhood children.

Exploring a nearby inlet with sketchbook in hand, Anna happens on a large, dilapidated summer villa by the water that looks uninhabited — until she spies a girl behind a second-story window, having her long blonde hair brushed by an elderly woman.

Later, after a bruising encounter with a local girl at a town festival sends her running away angry and in tears, Anna returns to the inlet. This time she meets the blonde-haired girl, Marnie, who is eager to escape her gilded cage of a house that both fascinates and frightens Anna. Smilingly overcoming Anna’s initial shyness, Marnie quickly makes her a friend and confidante. “Let’s keep us a secret, forever,” she says, and Anna agrees.

Soon, Anna is telling Marnie things she has never told anyone, while Marnie introduces her to the nighttime revels at the villa, presided over by Marnie’s stylish socialite mother. In the daytime, however, the villa looks as abandoned as ever. What is going on here? A lonely girl’s unusually vivid fantasy/dream life? Perhaps a huge silo that terrifies the usually unflappable Marnie hold a clue?

All is finally illuminated, with a humanistic realism that is more Takahata than Miyazaki — see the former’s 1991 film “Omohide Poro Poro (Only Yesterday)” for a good example — though “Marnie” does not entirely escape the uncanny, or even want to. Scenes in the villa brought back memories of “The Shining,” though not the hotel’s terrifying Room 237. Meanwhile, Anna sees Marnie, not as an exotic Other but as a friend who, however elusive, is essential to her at the deepest level for both her present happiness and her future growth.

Is she real? Does it matter? Marnie rows the enraptured Anna about in a boat with brisk confidence, but she also teaches her to do it herself. That’s what counts, isn’t it?

Fun fact: Hiromasa Yonebayashi’s previous Ghibli film, “Kashigurashi Arrietty (Arrietty),” was also based on a work of fantasy by a British author: “The Borrowers” by Mary Norton. The 2010 film earned $145 million worldwide and won animation of the year at the 34th Japan Academy Prize awards.

Los Angeles Times

21 May 2015

Review 'When Marnie Was There' deftly creates a magical friendship

By Kenneth Turan

"When Marnie Was There," from Japanese animation mainstay Studio Ghibli. A pleasure to behold.

"When Marnie Was There," the delicate, evocative new Japanese animated film from Studio Ghibli, does not fall neatly into any conventional narrative category. But that doesn't get in the way of it being visually spectacular.

As directed by Hiromasa Yonebayashi, responsible for "The Secret World of Arrietty," "Marnie" shares with that 2010 film a magical sense of the natural world, an ability to create a hand-drawn universe that is meticulously made as well as quietly stunning.

Transposed from rural Britain to the northernmost Japanese island of Hokkaido, "Marnie" is part YA coming of age tale and part ghost story. It deals with friendship, loneliness, abandonment and forgiveness, and though its curious narrative arc means you're never sure exactly where it's going, the film works up a considerable emotional charge by the end.

"Marnie" starts with a 12-year-old girl named Anna Sasaki dealing with sadness. As voiced by Hailee Steinfeld in the dubbed English version and Sara Takatsuki in the subtitled Japanese, Anna always feels outside of the magical circle of friendship other girls share. Even Anna's foster mother worries about this, talking about how she always has "an ordinary face," one that doesn't show emotions.

Then Anna's chronic asthma becomes worse, and she is sent from urban Sapporo, where she lives, to recuperate in rural Hokkaido. She's to board with the Oiwas, relatives of her foster mother, a boisterous, jolly couple who don't take things too seriously.

A gifted but shy artist, Anna is looking for a place to sketch when she stumbles on an abandoned mansion set on a marsh, a place that she feels drawn to even though locals say it has a reputation for being haunted.

Because of the house's location on the marsh, the effect of the tides means it's accessible only at certain times. Pulled there almost by an unknown force, Anna rows out to the house one evening, and there she meets Marnie (Kiernan Shipka/Katsumi Arimura), a girl her own age with stunning blond hair whom she has previously dreamed about.

The two young people become fast friends, exchanging confidences and stories about their mutual loneliness. "You're my precious person," Marnie tells Anna. "Promise me we'll remain a secret."

Anna, whose first words to Marnie were, "Are you a real person?" a question the blond girl ignores, clearly only half-believes that this creature is real, but her need for companionship is so strong and Marnie fills it so well that she doesn't really care.

One of the virtues of telling this story with animation is that everything looks equally real and those in the audience can't be sure any more than Anna about exactly who Marnie is. Director Yonebayashi's elegant style, which uses gorgeous colors to combine the real and the magical in a believable way, also helps to tell this unusual tale effectively.

For in some ways the story of "When Marnie Was There" grows stranger and more complex the longer it goes on, slowly allowing us deeper and deeper into the world these two have made for each other. Yonebayashi's style is intentionally unhurried; he's in no rush to reveal the secrets of the world he's taken us into. But his aim is true, and the rewards of this film are unmistakable.