REVIEW: When Marnie Was There (2014)

An anti-social girl retreats to rural Hokkaido, where she meets a mysterious person; the only one she could call a friend.


By Raymond Arcega
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When Marnie Was There

Original title: 思い出のマーニー
Year: 2014
Country: Japan
Language: Japanese
Genres: Animation, Drama
Director: Yonebayashi Hiromasa

Anna (Takatsuki Sara) is a young middle school girl who says that she hates herself, and that she lives on the outside of any social circle. Feeling everyone casts her aside, one day her anxiety causes her to suffer an asthma attack at school.

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Feeling that Anna should escape the polluted air of Sapporo, and worried about her seemingly sudden change in personality, her guardian Yoriko (Matsushima Nanako) arranges for Anna to rejuvenate in a rural village under the care of some relatives.

It is in this village that Anna meets Marnie (Arimura Kasumi), a foreign girl who lives in the huge Marsh House at the edge of a nearby lake. Marnie becomes Anna’s first friend who she feels she can open up to, and they become inseparable. They propose to be secret friends forever. However, there’s a certain aura of mystery to Marnie. It turns out that Marnie isn’t everything that she may appear to be.

When Marnie Was There serves as a “See you again, someday” from the renowned Studio Ghibli, as they have announced that they will go on a hiatus from film production for an unspecified amount of time.

But rather than dwell on whether or not Marnie was film worthy of sending off Ghibli, let’s talk about if it’s worthy enough to be included in the studio’s family of memorable animated films.

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Noticeably different when compared to a Miyazaki or Takahata film, Marnie is a film which feels like its target audience are girls of the same age as the main heroines. That is because Marnie features no lead male hero, but rather two lead heroines. However, as expected from a Ghibli film, the story is engrossing enough that really anyone can dive in and enjoy.

The story isn’t an epic fantasy as one would expect from Miyazaki, but closer to the kind of human drama one could experience from Takahata. If you have seen director Yonebayashi Hiromasa‘s previous Ghibli film, The Borrower Arrietty, you’ll have an idea of what to expect.

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The conflict of this melancholy story centers on Anna, a girl so depressed it’s hard to watch at times. When the enigmatic Marnie enters her life, she finally finds a shining light to chase and escape her depression. Marnie was the first to accept Anna with open arms without any bit of hidden agenda – something that hints at being a source of Anna’s depression.

However, what makes Marnie so appealing is not just the depiction of Anna’s struggle in overcoming her depression, but the way the story makes the viewer ask questions. Who is Marnie? What is the Marsh House? How and why is Marnie connected to Anna?

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Every meeting Anna and Marnie is depicted as if they were dreams or hallucinations, making everything feel surreal. The story will tease you, at times tricking the you into thinking that you have found the answer. And when all loose ends are tied up in the conclusion, it might leave you with tears.

The film at its core is a story about love. Although, it’s not the kind that’s shared between lovers, and might even extend beyond the love between two best friends. The story is about the kind of love that can pull someone out of their internal darkness – the kinds of darkness that forms from a history of tragedy and sadness.

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Everything, from the beautiful and surreal depictions of rural Hokkaido, to the atmospheric soundtrack and theme song, make Marnie a satisfying cinematic experience. It’s not the dramatic battle of good and evil we love in Miyazaki films, but it still gives us with the same breathtaking moments of wonder we can expect from a Studio Ghibli one.

Watch this film…

…if you’re a Studio Ghibli fan and love how they can get you lost in their stories.


About the Author

Raymond Arcega

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