Monday, February 22, 2016
OSCARS 2016: When Marnie Was There (2014)
Hayao Miyazaki and Isao Takahata announced their retirement two years ago, it sent a wave of mourning through both anime circles and the hardcore animation fandom. Not helping matters was the hiatus Studio Ghibli announced afterwards, many fans worrying that the studio would be shutting its doors forever. The panic overshadowed what may be the final Ghibli film. “When Marnie Was There” was directed by Hiromasa Yonebayashi, who previously made the wonderful “Secret World of Arrietty.” Like that film, “When Marnie Was There” is based on an English-language children’s novel. While the box office in Japan did not match prior Ghibli successes, “Marnie” still grabbed an Oscar nomination for Best Animated Feature.
Anna is a withdrawn, shy twelve year old girl. Her asthma and a deep anxiety about her foster parents pushes her away from the girls that could be her friend. After an especially serious asthma attack, Anna is shipped off to live with relatives of her parents in the country. While there, Anna becomes fascinated with an abandoned house in the marshlands. Only at night during high-tide, Anna sees a beautiful little girl living in the home. After discovering her name is Marnie, the two become extremely close, secret friends. Yet nobody else notices Marnie and, soon, an entirely different family moves into the house. Anna realizes that her new best friend is a ghost.
The reason Anna and Marnie become such close friends, so quickly, is they both have an innate, mutual understanding of one another. They both enjoy the quiet. They both dislike crowds. It’s apparent to the audience quickly that Marnie is a ghost. Yet this is not a typical haunting. When Anna meets with Marnie, she seemingly slips into the past. As the story goes on, it becomes clearer that Marnie exist in a repeating fantasy, a memory that can be interacted with and repeats infinitely. Ghosts are the shadows of the past. This become even more obvious when we realize Marnie has a personal connection to Anna. There are hints at abuse and death, when Marnie talks about her cruel grandmother or the bullying maids. Cruel acts echo through history. As a meloncholey family film, “When Marnie Was There” isn’t afraid to get a little spooky either. Anna and Marnie’s journey to a dilapidated grain silo is surprisingly creepy. The film’s fantasy element allows memories and regrets, ghosts and the dead, to come to life and interact with the living.
a romantic sense, given Anna’s tom-boyish tendencies and uncomfortable reaction to Marnie’s male love interest. The two hug a lot too. However you interpret their feelings, watching Anna learn to care about something more than herself is touching and beautifully realized. Exploring the mystery of Marnie’s fate also causes a friendship between Anna and Sayaka, the girl who moves into Marnie’s old home, to form. In a round-about way, Marnie leads Anna to find other friends, enriching the girl’s life.
“When Marnie Was There” is, of course, gorgeously animated. Two sequences feature a tomato and a watermelon and both are so ripe looking, you want to eat them. The waves of the water move with a life like motion. Priscilla Ahn’s theme song, “Fine on the Outside,” is beautiful and heart-breaking. I’m not a huge fan of how the story resolves itself, flatly explaining some information in a heavy handed way. Yet “When Marnie Was There” is still a touching, fantastically done story. If it is indeed the final Studio Ghibli movie, it’s a powerful statement to go out on. [8/10]