director Hiromasa Yonebayashi
Studio Ghibli’s When Marnie Was There came with a lot less fanfare than many of their films, so we somehow missed it in the cinema. Maybe it’s a film with a harder selling point, no giant cats or spirits, no flying witches, robots, pigs. But it does have a ghost…of sorts.
And it’s surprisingly emotional, evocative, and beautiful.
The story is about an orphaned 12 year old, Anna, who suffers from depression, asthma, and some social disorders is sent to live with her adoptive mother’s friends in the country. Her alienation from people is not so specifically defined but profoundly relatable. It is only when she meets the mysterious Marnie, a girl from an abandoned mansion nearby, who pays her the kindness and attention that awakens life and love and friendship in the girl.
There is a lot that one can read into the story, or maybe simply “read the story as”. My kids, with whom I watched the film, thought that Anna was imagining everything, a state of schizophrenia or something, but more so, as the story develops that the relationship between Anna and Marnie is a romantic one, of emotional and physical love. So when the final twist falls, it’s a little hard to reconcile the various readings.
That said, it’s a very affecting film. The emotions of loss and loneliness and alienation, of love as well, are palpable. The mysteries and vicissitudes of the story remain open and richly evocative.
Studio Ghibli has been an amazing institution and Hiromasa Yonebayashi’s When Marnie Was There is another remarkable film to add to their legacy.