When Marnie Was There




Stylistically this film fully maintains the standards of Studio Ghibli, but was the material 

worthy of it?


When Marnie Was There


The uncertainties over the future of Studio Ghibli following the announcement of the retirement of Miyazaki have led to each recent film from that source facing the critical challenge of being a worthy final animation in case it should indeed prove to be the studio’s last work. On a technical level When Marnie Was There directed by Yonebayashi Hiromasa matches up being a perfect illustration of the details and imaginative qualities that have come to be expected in the visual realisation of works from Studio Ghibli.


The opening could not be more promising as the film introduces us to 12-year-old Anna cherished by her foster parents yet even so a child who feels herself to be an outsider and who suffers from asthma. On a doctor’s advice she is sent off into the country to stay with a sympathetic aunt and uncle and all of this is presented with a sense of reality that brings this animated movie closer to the world of Ozu than one would ever expect. But the story then goes off in a more fanciful direction as it follows the English novel of the same name by Joan G. Robinson transposed to a Japanese setting (much as Yonebayashi had done in 2010 with the adaptation of Arrietty from Mary Norton’s The Borrowers).


As the story develops Anna dreams of a local dwelling, The Marsh House, and of the girl, Marnie, seemingly living there. The two youngsters meet and quickly develop a close bond, but it is apparent that Marnie could be an imaginary friend conjured into being by a girl troubled by her discovery that her supposed mother is being paid  to look after her. Notwithstanding its title, the 1944 classic Val Lewton’s The Curse of the Cat People dealt with similar elements admirably and succinctly but here the plotting becomes top heavy.


In an age when Calamity Jane is beloved by lesbians, the secret love of the two girls and Anna’s jealousy of Marnie’s boyfriend suggests more than needy friendship, while the notion that Marnie is Anna’s fantasy is deliberately undermined by the discovery of a diary that indicates that Marnie is real. Despite a passing hint that Anna’s fantasy is linked to a loved object in her childhood akin to the sledge in Citizen Kane, the ultimate revelations ignore this and involve instead a history encompassing three generations. This may explain things  but it does so in a way that adds to the oddity of the story rather than cementing the audience’s empathy with Anna. These distractions will not affect children but a simpler resolution might have made the film more appealing to them and, since a dubbed version is also being released, it suggests hopes that children will be part of the audience for this movie. For adults the film’s strong Japanese atmosphere is enhanced by viewing the subtitled presentation. So, yes, this is well worth seeing as a visual treat, but the story makes it a questionable choice for Studio Ghibli even though it was endorsed by Mayazaki himself.




Voices of: Takatsuki Sara, Arimura Kasumi, Matsushima Nanako, Terajima Susumu, Negishi Toshie, Mori-yama Ryoko, Toshiyuki Kazuko and in the dubbed version the voices of Hailee Steinfeld, Kieran Shipka, Kathy Bates, Ellen  Burstyn, John C. Reilly, Geena Davis, Catherine O’Hara.


Dir Yonebayashi Hiromasa, Pro Nishimura Yoshiaki, Screenplay Niwa Keiko, Ando Masashi and Yonebayashi Hiromasa, from the novel by Joan G. Robinson, Ph Okui Atsushi, Pro Des Taneda Yohei, Ed Rie Matsubara, Music Muramatsu Takatsugu and theme song by Priscilla Ahn.


Studio Ghibli/Toho Company/Dentsu-StudioCanal.
103 mins. Japan. 2014. Rel: 10 June 2016. Cert. U.