Film Review – When Marnie Was There

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To many it’s a bittersweet ending to a animation powerhouse, When Marnie Was There is been billed as Studio Ghibli‘s final in-house production proving life does exist post Miyazaki and Takahata. But how long will the Studio be in hiatus, will we ever see them as we love them again? The Oscar nominated film directed by Hiromasa Yonebayashi (Arrietty) is looking like the end of  one chapter but last month at Cannes Film Festival the next chapter looks to have started. Unveiled was the studio’s first non-Japanese co-production in the shape of The Red Turtle one of the highlights of this years festival and hope for fans Studio Ghibli will live on.

When Marnie Was There continues the Studio’s successful relationship of adapting beloved British Children’s books (Howl’s Moving Castle, The Secret World Of ArriettyakaThe Borrowers). Marnie is based on a book of the same name created in 1967 by Joan G.Robinson which is transported from Norfolk to Hokkaido Northern Japan, never losing any of its tender charms.

The film centres around Anna (voiced by Sara Takatsuki or Hailee Stansfield in dubbed version) a young girl suffers from constant panic attacks, finding it hard to make friends, disconnected virtually from life. To help her attacks, her foster mother sends Anna to stay with her Aunt & Uncle to the seaside and to the peace and tranquillity of simple rural life.

From day one Anna tries to adapt to her new life and she discovers an old mansion surrounded by marshes that attract her attention. She decides to go and explore the building only to find a young girl called Marnie (Kasumi Ariuma/Kiernan Shipka) lives there. Instantly the girls bond forming a unique friendship that grew day by day, with the house working like a magnet drawing Anna back to the house. Slowly things start to piece together who her mysterious friend Marnie really is.

When Marnie Was There roots are firmly  in realism. However its a coming of age story that teases the tropes of fantasy to tell that story that’s firmly grounded in reality. Our teenage years those who can remember them can be regarded as some of our most turbulent years. A plethora of new, sometimes terrifying but also exciting sensations that make us who we become.

This is handled with great affection with a narrative that engages you on every level from the complexities to merely uplifting. Marnie is Anna’s rock, a strength that gradually helps her open up and be expressive. When you compare how she was from the opening scene of a quiet, reserved disconnected from her classmates, family, things are working. Marnie is the polar opposite of Anna. Confident, energetic, playful being but who is her new found friend? A ghost? Guardian Angel or simply a fragment of her imagination? Keeping that mystery right until the end helps the film flow perfectly, she simply Anna’s most important person in her life.

The little things of nature sounds like wind blowing in the grass, our character’s hair, the rain dropping to little crabs running away into the water, these are the things we take for granted. There the little things that make watching a Studio Ghibli movie and extra special viewing experience one we’ll always cherish always associate with the studio. When Marnie Was There also has touches of another Japanese Anime master Satoshi Ken (Perfect Blue, Paprika) from been immersed in perception, shifting realities to surreal moments.

If When Marnie Was There is truly the end of Studio Ghibli was know it, it’s an deserving ending that melancholic, delicately  handled charming tale. Masterful storytelling at it’s best.


Anime, Drama, Family | Japan, 2014 | U | StudioCanal | 10th June 2016 (UK) | Dir. Hiromasa Yonebayashi | Sara Takatsuki, Kasumi Arimura, Nanako Matsushima, Nanako Matsushima, Susumu Terajima
Dubbed Version Cast:Hailee Steinfeld,Kiernan Shipka, Grey Griffin, John C.Reilly,Geena Davis