When Marnie Was There
2015, PG, 103 min. Directed by Hiromasa Yonebayashi. Voices by Sara Takatsuki, Kasumi Arimura, Nanako Matsushima, Susumu Terajima, Toshie Negishi, Hitomi Kuroki.
REVIEWED By Marc Savlov, Fri., June 5, 2015
English-dubbed versions will screen at most afternoon matinees; subtitled versions will screen in the evenings.
Say it isn’t so, Studio Ghibli! Scuttlebutt has it that this clever, albeit notably less than thrilling, adaptation of Brit author Joan G. Robinson’s 1967 YA novel may be the final feature release from Japan’s storied animation powerhouse. Studio co-founder and longtime figurehead Hayao Miyazaki officially retired in 2013, so it makes sense that a film studio so closely bound up in the wild and hyperkinetic, manga-based style and themes of its iconic leader would choose to shutter its doors in his absence. Still, that doesn’t make it any less of a loss (should the still-unconfirmed rumors be true) to not only Japanimation fans but also lovers of rich, passionate cinema the world over. Studio Ghibli’s films, and particularly those helmed by Miyazaki, have consistently been recognized for being far more than kid-focused animated films. Among a countless bounty of career-spanning accolades, Miyazaki’s masterpiece, Spirited Away, won the 2002 Oscar for Best Animated Feature – no mean feat given that Hollywood, to this day, still isn’t sure what to make of anime.
While this film’s title owes no actual debt to Hitchcock, When Marnie Was There is indeed a study in damaged psychology, and the inner world of a young woman – girl, actually – who appears to be unable or unwilling to connect with the world around her. “I wish to have a normal life every day,” writes the tomboyish protagonist Anna, although it’s only when her foster “auntie” sends her to the rural marshlands of Hokkaido that her full, tragic backstory begins to emerge. That’s thanks to the titular young blond girl who only seems to appear when Anna dozes off, and who may or may not live in a ruined but palatial mansion across the bog.
All the elements of the traditional English ghost story are here – transplanted from the Norfolk countryside by screenwriters Hiromasa Yonebayashi, Keiko Niwa, and Masashi Ando – including mysterious candles flickering on the prow of a battered skiff, temporal dislocation, and, of course, a major character with serious family issues. It’s shot in a lovely, Ghibli-esque style, unlike the studio’s recent, more painterly and experimental The Tale of the Princess Kaguya, but the pacing is dreadfully slow compared with Miyazaki’s own frenetic filmmaking, and only those audience members under the age of 1- will be surprised by Marnie’s “shocking” final revelation. Noticeably, detailed work has gone into the backgrounds of certain sequences, rendering them in an almost photorealistic style which accents Anna’s apparent disconnection from the reality of her surroundings. But this is, disappointingly, a long way from being a Studio Ghibli classic. The essential plot may be archetypal, but it’s no Kiki’s Delivery Service.