Director: Hiromasa Yonebayashi
Starring: Sara Takatsuki, Kasumi Arimura, Hana Sugisaki, Hitomi Kuroki
Introverted and lonely, Anna (Sara Takatsuki) is sent to stay with relatives in a small waterside town for the summer, supposedly to help her asthma with the clean and fresh air. While she has a severe difficulty making friends, she is able to sketch to her her heart’s content a hauntingly beautiful mansion on the other side of the lake. The artist is surprised to find that a beautiful young girl, Marnie (Kasumi Arimura) lives at the mansion and the two become fast friends. As Marnie is able to open Anna up and breathe life into the depressed girl, Anna finds many mysterious things do not add up about her new friend. Just who is this enigmatic girl?
Having been a massive fan of Director Yonebayashi’s previous Ghibli film, The Secret World of Arrietty, I was quickly interested in this picture when it was announced as his next feature. Of course, news would shortly follow that this film would also, for the foreseeable future at least, be the final Studio Ghibli feature film as well. Considering the immense love and affection I carry for the films of Studio Ghibli, I seemingly was in a state of denial that I was unaware of until the penning of this review. Having sat on my copy of the film for MONTHS, I must have somehow thought that not viewing the film would have meant that Ghibli still had more to offer, all news reporting otherwise. So it was with perhaps an overly sentimental heart that I sat through this screening but it was a beautiful and moving experience that shares many themes with how I feel about the studio’s shuttering.
First of all, the film is staggeringly beautiful, maybe even one of the best ever produced in the history of Ghibli. Backgrounds and scenery is lush and detailed, and most importantly, alive in a way that only masters of 2D animation are able to accomplish. The locale is as much a character as any speaking roles and the vibrancy throughout the film is not the least bit the reason why the film works so well. An understated score, by the relatively young Takatsugu Muramatsu, is wholly appropriate and haunting at times with its beauty and ability to suit the scene. It doesn’t have many standout tracks, but the evenness of the compositions adds so much to the scenes that multiple viewings are merited for his work alone.
Tackling a coming of age story from a female perspective, the film tackles such themes as loneliness, depression, abandonment, love, and friendship in a deliberately paced way that unfolds as classical Japanese drama as opposed to the densely propelled work of the iconic Hayao Miyazaki. Allowing much quieter moments to permeate the film, Yonebayashi shows a lot of restraint in his decisions and the film is greatly improved for it. Young actresses Takatsuki and Arimura, as Anna and Marnie respectively, seemingly have a lot of chemistry and while the ease in which their friendship is established may be a bit odd, the notion that both girls just want a friend is easy to understand. Supporting performances by other young talents like Hana Sugisaki as well as more seasoned veterans like Hitomi Kuroki, Nanako Matsushima, as well as one of my personal favorites Susumu Terajima help to round out the strong performances by the two leads.
While the film does carry a bittersweet feeling considering the seeming demise of Studio Ghibli’s feature film work, When Marnie Was There is one of those exceedingly rare films to wholly make me feel something in viewing. Sentimental and jawdroppingly breathtaking, When Marnie Was There is one of the best films to come out of Japanese cinema in quite a while. If this is to be the final film ever released by Studio Ghibli, at least it is with a picture with as much heart, soul, and beauty intertwined throughout so as to capture the essence of what made the studio so great as this. I suppose this film, like the studio, isn’t so much as a farewell as it is a promise to never forget; and I don’t think that I’ll be forgetting anytime soon When Marnie Was There.