When Marnie Was There (reviews - page 3)
This page lists information about reviews related to the film When Marnie Was There.
San Francisco Chronicle
4 June 2015
By Walter Addiego
With its lustrous images and emotionally resonant story, the animated feature “When Marnie Was There” is a nice addition to the abundant genre of tales about young outsiders. It’s a surprisingly serene depiction of a disquieting subject — the depths to which children can feel loneliness or betrayal, whether real or perceived.
It’s a production of Japan’s esteemed Studio Ghibli, perhaps the last for some time (the studio is retrenching after the retirement of its extraordinary co-founder, filmmaker Hayao Miyazaki). “Marnie’s” director is Hiromasa Yonebayashi, who made the warmly applauded “The Secret World of Arrietty” (2010).
Based on the 1967 novel by Joan G. Robinson, the new film transfers the setting from England to Japan. A 12-year-old named Anna, who lives with foster parents in Sapporo, is a talented artist, but isolated from her peers, and offers an emotionless face to the world. She also suffers asthma attacks.
On a doctor’s advice, Anna is sent to live with a jovial couple in the Hokkaido countryside who have a relaxed attitude. Anna quickly becomes curious about an old, empty mansion located by a marsh, and said to be haunted. Drawn there, she encounters Marnie, a girl of the same age with striking blond hair whom she has seen in a dream.
Both girls are eager for a companion. Anna confides that she was wounded and angered to learn that her foster parents were paid to take care of her. Marnie laments that her wealthy parents spend much time traveling, relegating her to the care of bullying housemaids. She also suggests to Anna that their friendship remain secret.
There are times when Marnie can’t be found. Is she real, or a ghost, or some figment of Anna’s neediness? For a long time, we remain as uncertain as Anna herself. The movie’s refined color palette, and the hand-drawn animation — a keynote of Studio Ghibli — are used with great skill to keep us wondering.
The film’s depiction of loss, isolation and reconciliation, and the rewards of friendship, grows more touching as the story builds to its highly emotional conclusion. If you feel any kinship with the disaffected, “When Marnie Was There” has much to tell you.
30 June 2015
By Robert Horton
Although it tells a mildly fantastical tale of ghosts and a magical mansion, When Marnie Was There is best at capturing authentic childhood experience. Even the sound is right. Maybe it stands out because we’re watching an animated movie, but the ambient noise is uncannily good. When the heroine arrives at her new home for the summer, every creaky floorboard and tinkling wind-chime gives a feeling of “Yes, that’s exactly how that sounds.” Those things are felt more keenly when experienced in a new place, which is the situation for Anna. She’s been sent to the seaside by her frustrated adoptive mother, who suspects a change of scenery would benefit the shy girl. Anna stays with a kindly older couple, but her imagination is captured by the moody house across a tidal flat, where ethereal blonde Marnie offers friendship. (SIFF will screen both the original Japanese-language version, with subtitles, and the dubbed version, with Hailee Steinfeld as Anna and Kieran Shipka as Marnie.)
The story, adapted from a book by Joan G. Robinson, is developed in the typically thoughtful style of Studio Ghibli, the storied Japanese animation house. Like the best of Ghibli’s films, Marnie is absolutely in sympathy with its young protagonist; there are no fake grown-up inventions about what kids are like. It’s got missing pages from a diary, hidden inscriptions on the backs of paintings, and a mysterious old silo where you shouldn’t go. Those hooks are just solid enough to carry the plot through its sometimes gauzy progress.
Director Hirosama [sic] Yonebayashi—under the eye of Ghibli guru Hayao Miyazaki—previously helmed Ghibli’s The Secret World of Arietty, a gorgeous little daydream of a movie. Marnie doesn’t have the sustained momentum of Arietty—at times I lost the thread as I was sorting out what was past and present and what was real and imaginary. One might also feel a twinge of regret at the Disney-ready image of Marnie, with her Farrah Fawcett hair. But the visual presentation is stupendous, a colorful combination of the lush and the simple. Plus, refreshingly, there are no boys around to provide romantic interest or save the day. They’re not needed in this portrait of female friendship and listless summer days.
17 May 2015
By Clayton Dillard
In a moment late into When Marnie Was There, director Hiromasa Yonebayashi relinquishes what has heretofore been a carefully plotted and paced narrative, opting instead for a montage of illustrative backstory that all too neatly pinpoints the film's thematic concerns regarding traumatic childhoods, culminating in one character actually having to define "sanitarium" for another. That the flashbacks are provided via a character previously glimpsed in a brief prior scene is peculiar; although the certainty likely benefits the target audience for the film's GKIDS label, it plays as a negation of Yonebayashi's moderately developed interests in ethnicity and youthful sexuality.
The director's latest is far less visually elongated and more rooted in the quotidian existence of a young child than his previous film, The Secret World of Arrietty, and at first plays like a refresher and throwback to Miyazaki's Kiki's Delivery Service, before revealing itself to be less minimal than minor. The compositions are detailed, but modest, with a lakeside residence in Kushiro serving as the film's primary setting. Anna (Sara Takatsuki) is 12 and has been sent there for the summer to stay with some relatives, since her parents in the city think she needs a change of scenery, which allows Yonebayashi to meticulously animate the fields of grass and serene lakes of the film's pastoral setting. Anna is rather sedentary; she draws on a park bench while the other children run around a playground. Yet her mind, the film seems to suggest, is anything but, as her imagination and introspective claim that "I hate myself" bring on an asthma attack which prompts her being shipped away for the summer.
Although the characterization plays mildly stereotypical for its insistence that physical inactivity and creativity are synonymous, Yonebayashi carefully constructs Anna's psychology, as when she needlessly apologizes to her parents for the cost of the doctor's visit. Moreover, brief glimpses of Anna vigorously sharpening a pencil while sitting in bed imply a pent-up energy that, for her, has only been able to find release through a visualizing of the surrounding, exterior world, which doubles for her own inferiority.
These are useful, potentially complex ideas that take further shape once Anna encounters a conspicuous mansion where young Marnie (Kasumi Arimura) lives, which provides solace to the two damaged souls who've previously sought unsuccessfully for partnership or, at least, friendship. That divide is on Yonebayashi's mind, most notably in a scene where the more elegant, aristocratic Marnie dances with a young boy at a party, much to Anna's chagrin. Except Anna is jealous of the boy, passively questioning whether or not Marnie enjoyed it, before Marnie insists that Anna dance with her. These are the seedlings of sexual infatuation for both girls, although the dance, which is drawn in close-up and focuses on both of their faces, remains a suggestion of these formations rather than a springboard into a more fully formed examination.
Race is broached a similar manner. When a woman remarks upon Anna's blue eyes at a party, it becomes a moment of outrage for the girl, who fires back by calling the woman a "fat pig." The insult, combined with her seeming discomfort with being of mixed ethnicity, acutely presents issues of body dysmorphia as one of the film's primary concerns, which is further illustrated by Anna's brown hair being contrasted with Marnie's blonde. Marnie is the beacon of beauty for Anna, although the specifics of such an infatuation are left unfulfilled by the film's twist ending, which reveals that—spoiler alert!—Marnie is actually the ghost of Anna's grandmother, emerging as her child self to help Anna come to terms with her feelings of being an outsider. The reveal isn't as problematic as the film's handling of it, which reduces narrative formations to much simpler, digestible terms, effectively displacing them as tangential concerns to the less evocative supernatural conceit. Yet When Marnie Was There remains close to death even in its soft ending, since Anna's troubles aren't cured by the wave of a wand, but remain alive, as something that necessitates care, attention, and even the occasional mea culpa, which Anna provides as the film's final offering.
22 May 2015
By Carlos Aguilar
Notably current while still unequivocally timeless, Studio Ghibli’s latest film was confected with equal doses of heart-rending drama and life-affirming beauty.
“So I sit in my room / After hours with the moon / And think of who knows my name” sings Priscilla Ahn during the closing credits in an emotionally stirring theme song that graciously concludes one of the most profoundly moving cinematic experiences to be had this year. In her lyrics, Ahn flawlessly captures the resilient spirit and tragic melancholy that pervade Hiromasa Yonebayashi’s animated adaption of British writer Joan G. Robinson’s 1967 novel “When Marnie Was There.” Notably current while still unequivocally timeless, Studio Ghibli’s latest film was confected with equal doses of heart-rending drama and life-affirming beauty.
Replacing England with Hokkaido, Japan, a logical move to fully embed the narrative with Ghibli’s magical allure, Yonebayashi fittingly fabricated a small town surrounded by marshes that could accentuate the fluctuating emotional distance between the two protagonists and their worlds. Following a frightening asthma attack, Anna (Sara Takatsuki/Hailee Steinfeld), a quiet young girl from Sapporo, is sent to spend the summer with relatives in a picturesque seaside community. Yoriko (Nanako Matsushima/Geena Davis), Anna’s foster parent, makes the decision in an effort not only to improve her health, but also her interpersonal skills. Soon we discover that beneath Anna’s silence there is painful resentment towards Yoriko, who she refers to as “auntie” instead of mom.
As with a great number of the famed studio's legendary masterworks, their ability to observe childhood and adolescence with a delicate maturity and truthfulness is present here – a quality that’s often lacking in American fiction aimed at this demographic. Anna can be moody, dismissive, and mean at times, yet Yonebayashi treats these occasional outbursts not as flaws but as valuable nuances that deeply inform our perception of the character. Unlike Miyazaki’s Chihiro who transforms from a spoiled child into a caring daughter or even Takahata’s Kaguya and her journey between freedom and confinement, Anna’s core conflict is an issue of identity much less concerned with the otherworldly circumstances surrounding her than the other heroines. Anna is uncertain about the sincerity of Yoriko’s love, and that translates into troubling insecurities. That’s where the eponymous Marnie (Kasumi Arimura/Kiernan Shipka) comes in.
Settled into her temporary home with her nonchalant and affectionate adoptive aunt and uncle, Anna spends her days sketching and exploring nature. She avoids other kids her age and has learned to be comfortable by herself. But when she comes across an isolated old mansion beyond the marshes, an overwhelming need to know more about it takes over her. This imposing Marsh House has a hypnotizing pull, and up close, at least in Anna's eyes, it doesn’t seem to be abandoned - a beautiful blond girl can be seen from a window. Enticed by the mysterious aura of the place Anna can't help but return and this time she meets the vibrantly gorgeous and welcoming Marnie, who appears to be around the same age but exudes an enchanting glow from another time.
Immediately, the girls become inseparable and establish a secret friendship. Under the moonlight they share each other's secrets with the trust of old confidants. Anna finds in Marnie the companionship she was missing, but there is a magical spark between them that will prove to be more than a coincidence. Still, even as comforting as spending time with her new friend is, Anna suspects that she has tapped into something beyond reality. Expertly structured to reveal itself with cautious pace, Yonebayashi's magnificent tale of unconditional love and forgiveness confronts the viewer with a number of plot twists and measured revelations that never blatantly point to its tempestuous conclusion. Marnie could simply be a coping mechanism for Anna to battle loneliness, a vision from a different era, or a tangible memory.
It's the heartwarming and intensely depicted bond between these longing souls that renders the film utterly devastating. They are connected through the shared pain of loss and their unfortunate destinies. Intelligently, the affecting topics discerned in "Marnie" are not toned down or simplified but affronted through the characters' conviction to overcome, and it's absolutely touching. Adoption, neglect, and even despair appear on screen as situations that are unquestionably rough but never unbeatable. Hope is another color Yonebayashi's uses to paint his frames.
Radiant landscapes, as luminous as masterful watercolors, are the backdrop for Ghibli's eternally detailed and uniquely stylized animation. Although "Marnie" doesn't exist in a fully fantastical realm as Yonebayashi's debut film "The Secret World of Arrietty" - which is the highest grossing Ghibli release in North America - this follow up uses those elements subtly and in a way that is cohesive with the subject at hand. It's a distinct form of fantasy that's derived not from an alternate reality, but from the vivid memories of past disillusionment sipping into the present to be be rectified. Needless to say the quality of the craft employed is reminiscent of the studio's best work, yet "Marnie" is destined to become a classic on its own merits.
Elegantly scored by renowned composer Takatsugu Muramatsu, this intimate film is a pleasure to watch because its emotive powers are fueled by every element at work, up to the last note on Ahn's poignant song "Fine on the Outside." More than just a visually delightful tearjerker, "When Marnie Was There" is an animated lullaby that reassures our broken hearts will eventually heal, even from the most indomitable tricks of fate.
1 March 2015
By David Ehrlich
How fitting that the last Studio Ghibli film for the foreseeable future is a tender, elegiac story about a young woman who learns the power of drawing (from) the past. Since 1985, Studio Ghibli has produced the most consistently magical and iconic slate of any movie studio on the planet, its name becoming a globally understood shorthand for the kind of animated entertainment that kids should inherit like a birthright. Chief among the many bittersweet pleasures of When Marnie Was There is that its virtues confirm what Ghibli stood for, and its insufficiencies (however modest) confirm that it’s time to say goodbye.
Adapted from a 1967 novel of the same name by late British writer Joan G. Robinson, When Marnie Was There orients us toward memories of a richer time. It’s a gentle seaside melodrama that’s touched with the urgent simplicity of a quintessential final film. (Few movies set on the water have been so focused on their wake.) In true Ghibli fashion, the plot concerns an adolescent girl who’s thrust into a strange new world that challenges her natural solipsism. Anna (Takatsuki) is a 12-year-old orphan who believes she’s a burden on her foster mom, which might explain why she’s always leaving herself out of the impressive sketches she draws of the people around her. After suffering an asthma attack, Anna is sent to spend the summer with her aunt and uncle, who live in a small village along the shores of Hokkaido. On her first night there, the girl spies a dilapidated mansion on the other side of an inlet that floods during high tide. During the day the house is a crumbling relic from another time, but at night it bursts with the glowing noise of a thousand prewar parties, and a young woman with flowing blond hair slips out of its front doors. Her name is Marnie.
Directed by Hiromasa Yonebayashi (whose The Secret World of Arrietty was a similarly strong second-tier effort), the film harks back to Takahata’s Only Yesterday more than it does Miyazaki’s Spirited Away and its more fantastical ilk. Gradually—and then with great, tearjerking force—it illustrates how Marnie’s uncertain place in the world allows Anna to find her own.
Save for occasional inflections of garish CGI, Marnie is as gorgeously animated as anything its studio has ever made. Nowadays, there’s a perverse opulence to the simplicity of such perfectly handcrafted 2-D details, but their earnestness opens you up, allowing the melodrama of Anna’s maturation to feel as precious as the rediscovery of something you feared lost forever. Ghibli may belong to the past, but its farewell is a wistful and stirringly humane reminder that what’s gone is not forgotten.
28 May 2015
By Linda Barnard
Showcasing the gorgeous hand-drawn work that is a hallmark of Japanese animation house Studio Ghibli, When Marnie Was There tells a story of youthful friendship tinged with melancholy and magic.
Because of its darker moments, it’s intended for audiences slightly older than director Hiromasa Yonebayashi’s previous charmer The Secret World of Arrietty. But there’s appeal for adult audiences too, especially those who admire artistry in animation and the offbeat humour common to Ghibli.
Images of dew-covered tomatoes in a garden, a Monet-like forest pond and wind-whipped waves on a blue bay show pleasing visual sophistication, even if the story, based on Joan G. Robinson’s young adult novel, veers to the simplistic.
The narrative centres on lonely, tomboyish Anna, sent to the seaside for the summer to recover from an illness. She’s fascinated with a mansion she discovers one day while exploring an isolated marsh. The great house is abandoned. Or is it? And of even more interest is the mysterious blond girl in old-fashioned dress that Anna sees in an upper window.
Their deepening friendship is surrounded by mystery and the supernatural, leading Anna to understand things about her past that had long left her puzzled and disappointed.
12 July 2014
By Christopher O'Keeffe
Studio Ghibli and its catalogue of extraordinary animated films has been built on the back of two men: the creator of its most beloved characters and star of the studio, Miyazaki Hayao and the often over-looked, but no less talented, Takahata Isao.
Last year saw the announcement of Miyazaki's retirement and the release of his last film, The Wind Rises, followed a few months later by Takahata's latest, The Tale of Princess Kaguya. Takahata may not have announced any desire to quit, but his advanced age (the director is now 78), and the length of time it takes him to put a film together leaves a question mark over the artist's ability to helm another feature length work. Regardless of whether we've seen the last from the legendary pair, Ghibli is moving into a new chapter with a next generation of filmmakers.
Yonebashi Hiromasa's first Ghibli feature was 2011's The Secret World of Arietty and the director has returned with another classic English children's book for adaptation, Joan G. Robinson's 1967 ghost story When Marnie Was There. The story follows Anna, a young girl living with an adoptive mother she refers to as 'Aunt'. Anna struggles to connect with the people around her, a morose and withdrawn attitude has left her alienated at school and so she is sent off to the countryside to see if the fresh air and new surroundings will do her any good. Staying with open and lively relatives in a beautiful coastal town, Anna, who remains a detached loner, finds herself drawn to an old, apparently empty house across an inlet.
After one particularly traumatic night Anna runs away, rowing across the water to the mansion where she meets a little girl. With blonde hair, blue eyes and a period dress the girl appears to be a dream and yet she is real to the touch. The girl, Marnie, is also lonely, ignored by her often absent parents and left in the clutches of a bullying old maid and so the two girls form a secret friendship, meeting nightly by the water after the sun goes down. When eventually a new family moves into the old mansion and Marnie disappears for good, Anna quickly befriends the new girl living there and the two set about discovering the true identity of the phantom friend.
When Marnie Was There is set very much in the real world, and the work reflects that. The painted backgrounds capture the picturesque little town, the mysterious house and the little rhythms of life with Ghibli's typical attention to the detail, at its best at a quaint local festival full of colored kimono's and decorated trees. The animation is typically beautiful without offering anything the studio hasn't done before. It lacks the epic quality of The Wind Rises or the stylistic beauty of The Tale of Princess Kaguya, but it captures the charm and mystery of the little coastal town effectively. The little house across the water is eerily similar to that of the The Woman In Black, both are haunted mansions cut off by the whims of a rising tide and this film carries a similar antique charm but without the chills. This is no horror movie though. The ghostly happenings carry a softer, more melancholic tone and it isn't a ghost story that plays for shocks but pontificates on the sad reality of grief and loneliness. When the ghost-like Marnie is present she's very much a real girl, physically present in the situation, so much so that Anna can forget the questions surrounding her presence and instead enjoy the company of someone she can relate to.
Anna is an interesting protagonist and it's important that we feel enough for her and are suitably interested in her plight to relate to her sadness. There are some wonderfully delicate moments that add a subtleness and realism to the film. The first scene shows Anna on the verge of opening up and showing her artwork to a teacher, the faintest of smiles about to break out across her face only to see the teacher distracted and turn away, and Anna withdraws into her fear and self-loathing. All the characters are well developed, much more so than in the director's previous work in which the narrative felt rushed, this film takes it's time and has the space to flesh out it's characters, from Anna and Marnie to the supporting cast with all of their ticks and nuances, from the over-eating wife and toy-making husband to the silent fisherman on the lake.
Marnie is going to struggle to compete for attention with the last works of Miyazaki and Takahata. The Wind Rises bore with it all of the attention of it's creator's retirement and Princess Kaguya, visually is somewhat unique in the Ghibli cannon. Whereas Miyazaki's adaptations are filled with an abundance of wild imagination and innovation other films have at times felt more like perfunctory adaptations of the source material, and other than changing the setting to Japan, add little in the way of innovation or the touches of uniqueness and quirkily inventive characters that define the studio. Marnie is a melancholic tale that won't captivate children in the way Totoro and Kiki have done, but should be appreciated by older fans with an appreciation for a touching story that is beautifully told. The central mystery unravels at a timely pace that will have you guessing at the true nature of the central relationship right up until its tearful conclusion.
16 November 2014
Studio Ghibli's first film without the involvement of either Hayao Miyazaki or Isao Takahata could also be its last.
By Peter Debruge, Chief International Film Critic
There are no walking houses, magical forest creatures or one-way trains to the spirit world in “When Marnie Was There,” but that doesn’t mean Studio Ghibli’s latest animated feature — and some fear its last — isn’t brimming over with its own unique sense of enchantment. In this demurely Japanese adaptation of Joan G. Robinson’s decidedly British ghost story, a withdrawn teen befriends a mysterious blonde girl who may or may not actually exist. Following news of Ghibli maestro Hayao Miyazaki’s retirement, this lovely and relatively low-key drama from potential successor Hiromasa Yonebayashi (“Arriety”) has cast the studio’s own status into question.
A strong box office showing would have gone a long way to encourage the Ghibli team to keep the pipeline open, but local interest has been disappointingly soft for “Marnie” (whose $31.1 million domestic showing pales compared to the $120-220 million Miyazaki pics earn), and the view from the top seems to be that producing quality hand-drawn animation is too labor-intensive to continue longterm. Still, ceasing such activity altogether would be a far greater loss, as this latest project plainly demonstrates.
By no means an essential addition to the Ghibli oeuvre, “Marnie” nevertheless represents yet another splendid escape from the increasingly strenuous glut of computer-animated offerings, this one designed to serve as family entertainment after the more adult-skewing likes of “The Wind Rises” and “The Tale of Princess Kaguya” (notably the first produced without the involvement of either Miyazaki or Isao Takahata, who directed those two films.) The story centers on a tomboy named Anna who doesn’t have any close friends at school, nor can she relate to the pretty and popular girls in her class.
Timid yet clearly not without talent, Anna spends her free time drawing. She feels disconnected from her peers and, to some extent, from her foster mother, who frets about Anna’s recent fit of asthma attacks, ultimately sending the young girl to spend some time with her adoptive grandparents in Hokkaido, the large island at the northern tip of the crescent-shaped country — an intriguing substitute for the novel’s rustic Norfolk setting.
There in Hokkaido, Anna finds the freedom to explore the area for herself, which of course is one of the great pleasures of a story like this for audiences patient enough to appreciate the change of pace — one that allows us to revel in the hand-painted backgrounds and carefully rendered flora and fauna. Anna’s solitary perambulations lead her to an abandoned villa overlooking the marsh. There’s something about the way the sun hits the house that serves as its own invitation. When the tide is low, Anna can easily cross to the odd building, and being a naturally curious child, she does exactly that, discovering to her astonishment an unhappy-looking blonde girl in the upstairs window.
Who is this young lady? And why can’t anyone else see her? As far as the locals are concerned, the big house has been abandoned for years, but when Anna approaches, the clock turns back, and the rooms fill with life. Rather than react in fear, Anna is drawn to the mystery, making tentative contact and then fast friends with the strange girl, whose name, of course, is Marnie — or “Mah-nee,” as Anna (voiced by Sara Takatsuki) says it with her soft Japanese accent. (Kasumi Arimura plays Marnie.)
In translating Robinson’s YA novel to the bigscreen, Yonebayashi (whose colleagues call him “Maro”) has worried less about potential cultural differences than those that exist between the two mediums. In essence, he has transposed the story, with its haunted windmill on the hill and sibylline blonde at the window — who could be a ghost or an imaginary friend or something altogether different — halfway around the world, holding fast to a certain Europeanness in the process (certainly, Marnie’s straw-colored hair isn’t standard in Japan). And yet, the essence of Anna and Marnie’s interactions shifts, changing from long, intimate conversations that flower on the page into more visual expressions, such as hand-holding, secret-sharing and late-night excursions via rowboat, just the two of them.
This sort of girls-only compact is not so uncommon among children’s stories, as seen in last year’s “Frozen” and, to cite an almost certain influence (if not the direct inspiration to make this film), in the same-sex kinships seen in Nippon Animation’s “Anne of Green Gables” TV series, overseen by Ghibli’s own Takahata some 35 years earlier. The young women’s connection is perfectly innocent, and yet, there’s something intense enough about short-haired Anna’s single-minded fixation on her blonde companion — the true basis of which emerges through a series of revelations and reversals late in the film — that could support alternate readings, the way lesbian audiences have embraced Julie Andrews in “The Sound of Music.”
But “Marnie” is about friendship, and the bond that brings Anna around to socializing with other girls her age. Yonebayashi’s open-hearted tale, more than any other Ghibli offering, could conceivably have worked just as well in live-action, and yet the tender story gains so much from the studio’s delicate, hand-crafted approach. Bursting with color and detail, buoyed along and uplifted by pianist Takatsugu Muramatsu’s feather-light score, the film’s traditional animation style gives the already old-fashioned narrative an even more timeless feel. Instead of marking what could be the end of an era, it arrives almost like a classic heirloom, uncovered and restored for contemporary eyes, a reminder of the craftsmanship and care that Ghibli always put into cel animation — once upon a time, when Marnie was there.
The Village Voice
20 May 2015
By Sherilyn Connelly
"I hate myself."
That's an unusual statement coming from the hero of an animated film, let alone in the first two minutes. But twelve-year-old orphan Anna (Sara Takatsuki), the protagonist of Hiromasa Yonebayashi's lovely anime When Marnie Was There, has no illusions about her place in the world: There's an invisible magic circle containing everyone else (i.e., all the seemingly normal, non-anhedonic people), and she's forever on the outside. And as far as she's concerned, she deserves it.
The young girl who's been orphaned or otherwise experienced parental trauma is an anime staple — in 2014 alone, there was the well-received A Letter to Momo and the underpraised Patema Inverted — and there's usually something about their turmoil that also feeds their inner strength. But Anna lacks her predecessors' pluck. She's the PG-rated equivalent of Joaquin Phoenix in The Master, scarred by the past and lacking the mechanisms to cope with the world, and convinced that she's ugly, stupid, moody, and unpleasant. One male reviewer has agreed with that self-assessment, blaming the film's so-so box office performance in Japan on Anna's sense of isolation making her difficult to relate to, and her being "incredibly bitchy." Which, ugh, and though its main character begins in a darker place than usual (thus making her journey into the light all the more satisfying), When Marnie Was There is unmistakably a Studio Ghibli picture: bright and frequently joyous in spite of Anna's pain, and never less than impeccably animated.
Prone to asthmatic episodes that double as panic attacks, city girl Anna is sent by her kindly foster parents to live with her aunt and uncle by the sea for the summer. She doesn't fare much better in this marshy paradise until she meets a young girl named Marnie (Kasumi Arimura). Marnie connects with Anna like nobody else ever has, and Anna begins to realize that she's worthy not only of being loved, but of being loved unconditionally. Unfortunately, all evidence points to Marnie being either a ghost, a figment of Anna's damaged psyche, or possibly both.
Anna being a Caucasian in Japan is never a plot point, and the closest the movie comes to acknowledging that detail is when a Japanese girl compliments Anna's blue eyes, referring to the color as "really pretty" and "foreign" — which, coincidentally or not, leads to one of Anna's biggest, darkest outbursts. (Pro tip for talking to people who struggle with being different: Making them self-conscious about their alienness never helps.)
Like the Southern Gothic genre it resembles (Joan G. Robinson's source book was set in Virginia [sic]), When Marnie Was There keeps its emotions, both dark and light, big and right there on the surface. Anna being a short-haired tomboy who discovers love with a pretty blonde femme makes it tempting to read a queer subtext, but that's far too reductive. At its most beautiful, Yonebayashi's picture is about the magic of female friendship at its purest, including intimate acts such as hand-holding, cuddling, waltzing, and unguarded declarations of emotion, as Anna discovers the paradox of the strength that can be gained only by surrendering to vulnerability.
With the retirement of producer Hayao Miyazaki, Studio Ghibli has put production on hold; When Marnie Was There may well be its last feature film. If so, it's a strong note to leave on.
The Washington Post
11 June 2015
By Michael O'Sullivan
There is a quality of enchantment to “When Marnie Was There” that can’t be faked, and that the studio behind this animated feature is justifiably famous for. With its latest release — a non-spooky ghost story set in a seaside fishing village — the Japanese animation house Studio Ghibli has once again created a world where magic and imagination don’t just rule but are transformative.
Directed and co-written by Hiromasa Yonebayashi (“The Secret World of Arrietty”), “Marnie” shifts the action of British author and illustrator Joan G. Robinson’s 1967 book from coastal England to a marshy inlet outside Sapporo, Japan. There, among the ducks and dramatic tides, our reclusive 12-year-old orphan heroine Anna (voice of Hailee Steinfeld) has been sent, as a form of asthma therapy, by her foster mother Yoriko (Geena Davis).
While staying with Yoriko’s relatives (John C. Reilly and Grey Griffin) — from whom Anna feels disengaged, as she does from almost everyone — Anna meets a girl close to her age named Marnie (Kiernan Shipka). That Marnie lives in a mansion thought to be vacant, if not haunted, is our first sign that the mysterious blond girl is not all that she appears to be. That, and her oddly decades-out-of-fashion wardrobe.
Over the course of this meticulously constructed tale, which unpacks its secrets like a watchmaker taking apart a timepiece, Anna comes out of her shell, learns about Marnie and discovers something about her own past. The film feels like a great summer read: languid yet not un-urgent. It draws you into its world imperceptibly but inexorably, like the tide, the way the best books (and movies) do.
“When Marnie Was There” is a story of friendship, memory and self-discovery. It’s also something of a mystery — and not entirely without a goosebump-inducing moment or two, especially during one scene set in a haunted lighthouse during a rainstorm. It’s a kid’s movie that grown-ups will like. As Marnie does on Anna, the movie casts a spell.
21 May 2015
By Alonso Duralde
This adaptation of a British novel boasts the voices of Hailee Steinfeld and Kiernan Shipka and the lush visuals you’d expect — but the narrative feels wobbly
“When Marnie Was There,” the second animated feature from director Hiromasa Yonebayashi (“The Secret World of Arrietty”) feels very much of a piece with other films from Studio Ghibli, from its lush portrayal of the natural world (“My Neighbor Totoro,” “Pom Poko”) to its complex female protagonist (“Spirited Away,” “Princess Mononoke”).
It also, unfortunately, ranks among Ghibli’s lesser screenplays, comparable most notably to Hayao Miyazaki‘s “Howl’s Moving Castle,” a gorgeous film that nonetheless falls apart narratively. Both “Marnie” and “Howl’s” are based on British novels — although, to be fair, so was “Arrietty” — which might suggest that the filmmakers at the legendary Japanese studio tell better stories out of their own heads than when they’re adapting the works of others.
In any event, “Marnie” creates such a rich world – from its seaside village to a gothic abandoned mansion to a scary old abandoned grain silo – that anime fans will overlook its flaws. If you’re a Ghibli booster who’s looking to initiate newcomers, however, this film might not be the place to start.
We’re introduced to Anna (Hailee Steinfeld in the English-language dub; Sara Takatsuki in the original Japanese — distributor GKids is distributing both versions in the U.S.), a young girl who’s a talented artist but clearly troubled, and more so than the usual protagonist of a film aimed at kids. We hear her say, “I hate myself!” several times over the course of the story, suggesting a deep depression and even possible suicidal intentions.
Anna feels like a burden to her foster mother, and even though the woman is nothing but loving and nurturing to the girl, Anna is devastated to learn that her foster parents receive a stipend for taking care of her. Growing more antisocial and removed from her peers, Anna is sent off to the country to live with an aunt and uncle and to get some fresh air. (On top of everything else, Anna has asthma.)
She’s immediately drawn to a gloomy seaside manor that triggers her imagination, and as the sun goes down and the tide rises, Anna sees a young girl in a high window having her hair brushed by a governess. That girl is Marnie (“Mad Men”‘s Kiernan Shipka; Kasumi Arimura), and soon the two girls grow close, even though Marnie demands that Anna keep their friendship a secret.
Is Marnie a ghost? A figment of Anna’s imagination? And what’s going to happen when a new family moves into the manor house?
Viewers will probably figure out the answers to those questions before the characters do in the screenplay by Yonebayashi, Keiko Niwa, and Masashi Ando (adapting Joan G. Robinson’s 1967 novel). But it’s not the predictability that’s disappointing as much as the pat resolutions and emotional fixes provided to Anna. If you’re going to set up a young character who’s this complicated and in this much pain, you owe her a similarly complex catharsis.
The interplay between Anna and Marnie is nonetheless heartfelt and haunting, with two fragile souls reaching out to each other across time and space to provide affection and even forgiveness. (As a bonus, fans of the youthful butch-femme dynamic can put this one on their lists after “Little Darlings” and Peppermint Patty and Marcie.)
As a visual (and auditory) experience, “When Marnie Was There” offers so many other pleasures that audiences may well overlook the story issues. After all, even second-tier Studio Ghibli releases rank among world cinema’s finest animated films.