‘When Marnie Was There’ is Studio Ghibli’s newest animation and, as ever, it’s a delight to watch. Twelve-year-old Anna isn’t feeling so good at home as she suffers from asthma, and her attacks are getting quite bad in the busy city of Tokyo. She’s not feeling very good on the emotional side either – whether it’s her teenage hormones kicking in or something bigger we don’t know, but it’s obvious that there’s a lot of tension between her and her family.
After a bad asthma attack, Anna’s doctor suggests that she spend some time out of the city. She goes and stays with some relatives in Hokkaido, a small place by the sea. While she is there she still feels an outsider, but develops an obsession with a nearby abandoned mansion. It is here that she meets the mysterious Marnie, a girl of the same age, but she can’t quite work out where she’s from, and why she feels so familiar.
I haven’t seen a single Studio Ghibli film that I can’t describe as enchanting, and ‘When Marnie Was There’ is another one that is described perfectly in this way. These sorts of Japanese animations often start with a main character leaving the city for somewhere a bit more natural, yet it never really gets old – it’s a situation many people can identify with, either as people who have done this before, or people who really need to. Anyone who’s ever felt like the outcast will identify with Anna, who is a bit of a tomboy and heavily introverted. Instead of going to parties she spends her time drawing and exploring, and Marnie is the first person in her life who’s really got her to confront her emotions.
As always, the animation is wonderful, complete with its adorable charm that will grab your attention straight away. The animation has been upgraded somewhat with a few depth-of-field effects spread throughout – I didn’t feel these were necessary, but they added something in their own way.
The story is particularly interesting this time around as it’s much more of a slow-burner. The plot is very gradual and the emotional side of it doesn’t come into full force until near the end (which somehow makes it all the more powerful). There’s a positive message hidden within it all about imagination and running free, and it captures this beautifully with the childlike innocence displayed in every scene. Watching this felt particularly emotional for me - not only did Studio Ghibli animator Makiko Futaki sadly pass away this year, but there’s also been a lot of suggestions that, after 30 years of creating wonderful animations, Studio Ghibli may be ceasing to make anymore. And, given what a difference they’ve all made to the world of animation and film, this would be a real shame.
‘When Marnie Was There’ isn’t quite as fantasy-driven as many other Studio Ghibli films; in fact, it’s rather the opposite. Although a bit more psychological than some of the others, it’s a beautiful story that really will tug at your heartstrings – let’s just hope it’s not the last one. 4/5
When Marnie Was There at CeX
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