Marketed as Studio Ghibli’s ‘last ever’ feature (which we now can assume isn’t true; the co-produced 2016 Cannes premiered THE RED TURTLE should expect a 2017 UK release), WHEN MARNIE WAS THERE is a delicate adventure into the mysteries of dreams with a ghoulish twist which once again proves animation can be more human than live action counterparts.
Directed by Hiromasa Yonebayashi (ARRIETTY (2010)), WHEN MARNIE WAS THERE tells the tale of 12 year old Anna who after suffering with asthma is directed by her foster parents to live with their relatives in a fresh-aired coastal town. Upon an investigation of the new town Anna finds an abandoned mansion isolated from the mainland by an hazardous marsh causeway; towering once in grandeur but now seeming lacklustre and abandoned. Appearing somewhat familiar to Anna, she treks across the marsh where she unexpectedly spies a lit window graced by the presence of a soft gowned girl, the titular character Marnie.
Sparking interactions with not only Marnie but a plethora of characters including a mute boat rower and a serene landscape painter, Anna leads the story to understand what is happening in the mansion and who the mysterious Marnie truly is. In a movie that is as chilling as Watkins’ THE WOMAN IN BLACK (2012) (based on Susan Hill’s ghost story of the same name) and as heartfelt as Miyazaki’s Studio Ghibli MY NEIGHBOUR TOTORO (1988), WHEN MARNIE WAS THERE aligns memories and friendships with discovery.
“I remember. And you’re my secret.”
Based on the Norfolk novelist Joan G Robinson’s 1967 novel of the same name, WHEN MARNIE WAS THERE is adapted into Japanese culture taking place in the Sapporo region of Japan. As with previous Studio Ghibli features, WHEN MARNIE WAS THERE had a UK release in both Japanese (subtitled for English) and English language (dubbed) utilising the voices of Hailee Steinfeld (TRUE GRIT (2010) and PITCH PERFECT 2 (2015)) and Kiernan Shipka (MAD MEN (2007-15)) as the leads in the English language version. Yonebayashi is able to cross cultures producing a film that is relatable globally and feels as every bit at home with the other masterpieces from Studio Ghibli.
“I remember. And you’re my secret.” The mystery of the film is highlighted by the comparison in nature and appearance to the peculiar Japanese animated PROFESSOR LAYTON series which has seen both console games and feature films all with a mysterious puzzle solving narrative.
If movie audiences have learnt anything about the name ‘Marnie’ from cinema’s past, emphasis on HITCHCOCK’s 1967 thriller of the same name, is that it should evoke mystery and uncertainty. (In the same sense as the name ‘Carrie’ should synonymise with fear and a certain intention to not want to bully anyone, at least not with that same name). Both are plots which Yonebayashi successfully instils into his feature; however, rest assured the Marnie from this movie doesn’t steal any large amount of money.
Released in the UK amidst a cinema season of Studio Ghibli’s past greats, WHEN MARNIE WAS THERE shows that in film shy personalities can have huge voices and true friendships really can be omnipotent. Focussing greatly on not only on the expansion of Anna’s confidence as a young teenager but also on her reflection of her family and how her foster parents came to be.
Review by John Cheshire