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With this being probably and extremely sadly their last film, I am happy to say that When Marnie Was There is one of Studio Ghibli’s finest in a long time and one of their most emotional. It was released in 2014 and directed by Hiromasa Yonebayashi.
It tells the story of a 12-year-old girl Anna Sasaki who is extremely shy and unhappy with herself. Her foster parents send her to a small rural town to spend time with her relatives and recover because she is suffering also from asthma. There she meets a young, beautiful girl named Marnie in an old deserted mansion which comes alive when she is near. And you have a mystery when Marnie disappears and whether or not she was real and who she was. This story is absolutely fantastic throughout the whole running time because not only is it intriguing and incredibly involving but also very deep and multi-layered. The first act is a perfect introduction, the final act is a beautiful conclusion which is very emotional but also very grounded and immensely satisfying. And the second act is filled with such a well executed mystery that you cannot fail to get fascinated by it.
But the themes, wow what themes. You have a girl who has asthma and who is very shy, introverted and literally has no friends whatsoever. But the movie ends with her being able to cope with that instead of her gaining friends which is incredibly bold, refreshing and realistic. Only Ghibli could make such an ending and they are masters because of the universal truths they tell and moral lessons they teach in their movies. Anna also has a problem with her mother owing to her realization that they have been paid to parent her the whole time. That is some powerful stuff right there and the movie explores the troubles of parenthood, orphans and adoption in such a sophisticated and mature way that is helpful for children but also very welcome for adults to see.
The characters are all very likable, very grounded and beautifully realized thanks to some terrific character development on display here. Anna is so realistic as a shy person that cannot love herself and I found her character very similar to my personality which is why this movie resonated with me so much. Marnie is excellent as well as a girl who seems perfect on the surface but who has her troubles with living in a large house with servants who treat her poorly. And the reason why characterization is so great is because the supporting, smaller characters all have personalities as well. The Oiwa relatives are very likable and very dear people who treat Anna wonderfully, Sayaka is great as a girl who arrives later in the mansion and who wants to help Anna find out who Marnie is because she loves mysteries, while Hisako is endearing and Toichi is very memorable as the lonely and moody fisherman who in personality resembles the protagonist so much.
The animation is unbelievably breathtaking, Studio Ghibli mastered the craft of hand-drawn animation and it can easily be seen here. This is one of their less artistic and more accessible animated pieces with warm and pleasing colors, wonderful imagery, terrific interior as well as exterior and a style to spare. But the attention to detail is remarkable with sun on the water, clothing as well as facial expressions and great character design. This is definitely one of their most beautiful to look at animated films.
As for the flaws, well, I have just a couple of them that hurt the movie. Mainly some of the sequences can get too emotional with too many emotional outbursts and the movie can get way too convoluted in the second act with troublesome narrative at times and too mysterious story. And I also think the film for this complex and deep story needed much longer running time instead of the usual hour and a half which animated films usually get. That was certainly disappointing how short it is. But overall those are small flaws that do not take much away from this remarkable feature film.
Technically, it is a splendid film. The editing is mostly very good, the pacing is smooth and the direction from Hinomasa Yonebayashi is incredibly good. And I am happy to follow him and how he evolves as a director because his ‘The Secret World of Arrietty‘ was one of their weaker films while When Marnie Was There is a work from a major director how great it looks and he definitely could become one of the greats in the future. Also, the acting is absolutely marvelous with every voice actor giving a terrific performance and doing their job wonderfully. The score is once again beautiful and the dialogue is mature. The film manages to have both brain and heart which is fascinating in and out of itself. And how does this movie stand in the Studio Ghibli canon? I am happy to say that it is their very best in a long time and even better than ‘Kaguya‘ which was absolutely amazing. It will go down in history as one of their classics and I am so proud of them.
With expectedly breathtaking and incredibly pleasing animation, heartwarming conclusion, likable and grounded characters, realistic approach and complex and mysterious story filled with deep themes and ideas, When Marnie Was There is a marvel to behold and although too emotional and too convoluted at times, it is mostly a feast for the eyes and soul, a movie that has both brain and heart and which is not afraid to be brave and show realistic characters and grounded ending tackling some serious and very mature subject matter. I am happy to say that this is one of Studio Ghibli’s finest movies in a long time, but I am sad that it is probably their last. Art cannot survive in this cruel 21. century, a century of profit and stupid entertainment for the masses.This is simply a beautiful film from a wonderful Studio and my heart will be broken if it remains their last.