"When Marnie Was There"
Release Date: June 5, 2015
Running Time: 103 minutes
Now-retired Japanese animator Hayao Miyazak’s era at his Studio Ghibli comes to a close with When Marnie Was There, a quiet and intimate portrait of a 12-year-old foster child who longs to find her place in the world. Director Hiromasa Yonebayashi’s empathetic adaptation of Joan G. Robinson’s novel introduces us to Anna Sasaki,* a lonely, unhappy girl who feels so uncomfortable in her own skin that she shuts down emotionally and behaves inappropriately to avoid interacting with others. Anna spends the summer at the seaside home of her foster parents’ relatives in a bid to halt her asthma attacks. She is immediately drawn to the mansion that lies across the marsh. It is the home to Marnie, a young girl who appears to Anna under strange and wonderful circumstances. Yonebayashi, who previously directed Studio Ghibli’s more playful The Secret World of Arrietty, gradually peels away at the mystery that surrounds Marnie as a way to explore the root cause of Anna’s pain and suffering. By blurring reality with fantasy, When Marnie Was There offers a mature and heartfelt study in the way an alienated child maintains the seemingly impenetrable psychological barriers she raises to protect herself from disappointment and rejection. The joy Anna experiences around Marnie is as palpable as the confusion Marnie stirs within Anna. She suspects Marnie holds the key that will open the door to her past but neither knows where to find the key or the door it unlocks. At times, Yonebayashi frustrates us by constantly letting Anna take one foot forward and two steps in her effort to learn the truth about Marnie. But doesn’t the journey of discovery require occasionally walking down the wrong path? Yonebayashi tells this heartfelt parable through the lush and elegant hand-drawn animation that’s been a Studio Ghibli trademark for almost 30 years but he adds a melancholy sweetness that’s befitting of Anna’s situation. Yonebayashi also does not care that When Marnie Was There feels small in scope and ambition when compared with Hayao Miyazak’s own Spirited Away, Ponyo, or The Wind Rises. To a child like Anna, there is nothing bigger or more important than learning who you are and where you come from.
* The screener I watched featured the Japanese voice cast. GKIDS will release an English-language version of When Marnie Was There with a voice cast that includes Hailee Steinfeld as Annie and Kiernan Shipka as Marnie.
Aired: June 4, 2015
Web site: https://www.facebook.com/WhenMarnieWasThere