Director: Hiromasa Yonebayashi | 103 minutes | animation, drama | Original Voice Cast: Sara Takatsuki, Kasumi Arimura, Nanako Matsushima, Susumu Terajima, Toshie Negishi, Ryôko Moriyama, Kazuko Yoshiyuki, Hitomi Kuroki, Hiroyuki Morisaki, Yô Oizumi, Takuma Otoo, Hana Sugisaki, Bariasuda Suzuki, Shigeyuki Totsugi, Ken Yudauda
“When Marnie Was There” is potentially Japan’s most famous animation studio Ghibli’s last film. At the same time, this film is a milestone, as it is the first time that Studio Ghibli has released a film in which the founders, Miyazaki and Takahata, have no hand. The film is based on Joan G. Robinson’s children’s book of the same name and tells the story of Anna, a 12-year-old orphan girl who lives with her adoptive mother in the city. However, she does not feel at home with her peers and is very lonely. After a severe asthma attack, she moves to a fishing village where she goes to live with relatives of her adoptive mother to recover from her illness. There, Anna meets the mysterious Marnie, a glamorous but neglected girl who lives in a villa by the lake. Both turn out to be burdened by painful secrets and they support each other in their loneliness. A very close friendship develops between the two girls, but the line between dream and reality becomes increasingly blurred. Anna begins to wonder who Marnie really is.
Director Yonebayashi remains entirely in the tradition of previous films released by the studio. A comparison with the successful and Oscar-winning “Spirited Away” (Miyazaki, 2001) is easily made. Both films are set in a dreamy fantasy world that reflects the problems of reality. That is certainly not a criticism of “When Marnie Was There”. The film does not lack individuality.
When Marnie Was There is about abandonment, loneliness and self-hatred. The film shows how the connection with your own past can bring you closer to yourself, because you understand where you come from and can ultimately love yourself more. Anna’s genuine love for Marnie, which essentially boils down to self-love, is what, combined with the healing power of Hokkaido’s beautiful nature, helps Anna rise above her loneliness.
Despite the fierce theme and the sad twists in the story, the film is never gloomy. Thanks to its many colorful characters, Yonebayashi’s second full-length film remains light in tone and often humorous. “When Marnie Was There” is a youth film, but the great thing about it is that it is never condescending or evasive towards the viewer, emotions are not overexposed or explained. These are the kind of children’s movies that you can remember fondly as an adult.
The colors and movements of this anime are so vivid that it seems alienating and almost disappointing to step back into reality after watching. “When Marnie Was There” is brilliantly hand drawn. Most of the film takes place in a fictional fishing village on the island of Hokkaido. The setting is beautifully designed and Yonebayashi has succeeded very well in giving the viewer the same overwhelming feeling that the city girl Anna gets when she first sees the view over the lake from her new room.
The big doubt among anime fans is whether Studio Ghibli can deliver the same quality without the influence of grandmaster Miyazaki. “When Marnie Was There” proves it can be done. It is a bit silly to keep making the comparison with the Japanese anime hero, but since that is inevitable in this case, it must nevertheless be admitted that this cartoon does not contain the same magic that Miyazaki consistently manages to bring. Still, it would be a shame to judge this film on the existence of a genius who is otherwise separate from this film. Yonebayashi has made an honest and moving film that can make a large audience very happy.