For the last year it’s been rumored that “When Marnie Was There” would be the final (at least for the foreseeable future) release from Studio Ghibli, ending a nearly 30-year run of virtually unprecedented success.
While the future of the successful Japanese animation studio remains unknown, if ‘Marnie’ (its 20th feature film) is, indeed, its finale, it is going out on a high – albeit, somewhat confusing – note. And for some reason, that seems rather fitting.
Anna and Marnie form a mysterious friendship in the Studio Ghibli release “When Marnie Was There.”
“When Marnie Was There” is the story of Anna Sasaki, a seemingly unhappy, socially awkward 12-year-old girl who lives with her foster parents in the city of Sapporo. In addition to her social issues, Anna also struggles to control her asthma.
Following a rather severe asthma attack, Anna’s foster parents decide to send her to stay with relatives in the small, seaside town of Kushiro, for a summer of fresh air, fresh food and relaxation.
Initially, “Small Town Anna” and “Big City Anna” remain virtually the same person. That is, however, until she discovers an old, yet somehow beautiful old mansion that matches one she has sketched in her ever-present notepad. After she begins exploring the mansion and the marsh that surrounds it, she is befriended by its main inhabitant – a young girl by the name of Marnie.
The two become fast friends, but they both have a bad habit of disappearing on one another when other people show up or when they’re needed the most.
And sadly, that’s kind of what I’m going to do right now with this review … at least in terms of plot. Anything beyond what’s already been said could be considered a spoiler and the spoilers are what makes “Marnie” what it is.
I won’t lie, the film is about 1 hour and 45 minutes long and I was completely lost for all of about 30 minutes. Not so lost that I didn’t want to keep watching, but lost enough that I wondered whether or not I’d missed something significant along the way (I hadn’t, by the way).
Of those remaining 30 minutes, I was slightly lost for another 15. And of the final 15 minutes, I was completely sucked in by the story.
While there’s a lot going on throughout, at its core this is really a story of loneliness (whether it’s real or imagined) and the feeling of isolation that a lot of people feel growing up.
And that’s the beauty of a Ghibli film – you think it’s about one thing, but it’s really about something else and just really cleverly disguised.
“When Marnie Was There” is far from Ghibli’s best work, but considering it’s battling films like “Ponyo,” “Spirited Away” and “Howl’s Moving Castle” for that honor, it’s hardly surprising.
What it is, however, is a beautifully animated, family-friendly film that is able to deliver a universal message that will make most everyone think a little bit. At least on some level.
If this is the end for Studio Ghibli, it is a fitting one.
★★★ 1/2 of ★★★★★