Widely publicised as the final feature film from legendary Japanese animation company Studio Ghibli, the gothic and mysterious When Marnie Was There shows what a great loss this would be.
The studio is most notably associated with co-founders Hayao Miyazaki and Isao Takahata, both of whom have announced their retirement. While neither of them have any credit on this, it is unmistakably recognisable as a Studio Ghibli movie (I cite my 4-year-old daughter’s reaction as proof).
This film is based on the Norfolk set novel by English writer Joan G. Robinson, and transposes the story to Sapporo in Japan. Anna is a 12-year-old who suffers from asthma and sometimes crippling anxiety. To aid her mental and physical health, she is sent to a seaside town to stay with relatives for the summer.
Her loner instincts initially remain, but she begins to form an intense relationship with the mysterious blonde girl Marnie, who lives in a mansion across the tidal marshes.
Director Hiromasa Yonebayashi – a Miyazaki apprentice – directed a previous Ghibli feature Arriety, also based on a classic English novel by a female author (The Borrowers by Mary Norton). But this is a far richer and more powerful tale, that will likely bring a tear to your eyes by the end.
Keen to offer my daughter alternatives to the princesses of Disney, Studio Ghibli has been a beacon of wonderful female characters. The troubled, timid Anna and the ethereal Marnie are both worthy additions to their range of engaging girls such as Kiki (Kiki’s Delivery Service), Satsuki & Mei (My Neighbour Totoro), Shizuku (Whisper of the Heart), Nausicaä (Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind), Chihiro (Spirited Away), and more.
This emotionally intense tale will also fire the imagination of young minds, and despite it’s U certificate is a story of loss, resentment, heartbreak – and love. My 4-year-old daughter was visibly moved, and full of questions about the often melancholy tale at the end.
If you have yet to experience the wonder of Studio Ghibli, this is not the best place to start – depending on age, I would recommend any of the films mentioned above. But rest assured, when you come When Marnie Was There this will not disappoint.
‘When Marnie Was There’ is available on DVD and BluRay in the UK from STUDIOCANAL. We were sent a DVD copy for the purposes of this review.