The alluring mystery of When Marnie Was There

(image via IMP Awards)
(image via IMP Awards)


Anna hasn’t a friend in the world – until she meets Marnie among the sand dunes. But Marnie isn’t all she seems…An atmospheric ghost story with truths to tell about friendship, families and loneliness. Anna lives with foster parents, a misfit with no friends, always on the outside of things. Then she is sent to Norfolk to stay with old Mr and Mrs Pegg, where she runs wild on the sand dunes and around the water. There is a house, the Marsh House, which she feels she recognises – and she soon meets a strange little girl called Marnie, who becomes Anna’s first ever friend. Then one day, Marnie vanishes. A new family, the Lindsays, move into the Marsh House. Having learnt so much from Marnie about friendship, Anna makes firm friends with the Lindsays – and learns some strange truths about Marnie, who was not all she seemed … (synopsis via Slashfilm)

There is a great deal of wistful regret and poignancy attached to the film When Marnie Was There, based on the much-loved book by Joan G. Robinson, and not all of it has to do with the touching story of a young ailing girl named Anna who is sent away to a seaside town to recuperate where she befriends the mysterious Marnie, who will have more of an impact on her life than she could ever have imagined.

In fact, much of the sadness attached to this emotionally and visually-evocative film lies in the fact that it is quite possibly the last feature effort from the famed Japanesse animation house, Studio Ghibli, who since their founding in 1985 have produced 20 gloriously-sublime movies (including Spirited Away, Howl’s Moving Castle and The Wind Rises) and a slew of anime shows for television, as well as many other media projects including video games.

Known as much for their arrestingly gorgeous visuals as their exquisitely-detailed storytelling, Studio Ghibli has taken a decision to suspend its operations, following the retirement of the luminously-talented Hayo Miyazaki (one of the founders of the studio along with Isao Takahata, Toshio Suzuki and Yasuyoshi Tokuma) pending an assessment of where they go from here without the prodigious talents that established and sustained it.

Whether it is the last release from Studio Ghibli, and anyone with a heart and soul and a love for near-animation should hope and pray it isn’t, the film, written and directed by Hiromasa Yonebayashi (The Secret World of Arrietty) will finally get a wide release outside of Japan this year with an English-language version that features voice work by an impressive array of actors including Hailee Steinfeld, Kiernan Shipka, Kathy Bates, Ellen Burstyn, Geena Davis, Catherine O’Hara, John C. Reilly, Raini Rodriguez and Vanessa Williams.

When Marnie Was There looks in every single way like an archetypical Ghibli film – warm, rich, playful animation, a singular sense of time and place, rich, engaging characters and an intriguing narrative that looks like it will have as many questions as answers – and while it may mark the passing of an era, it looks like a more than worthy way to say goodbye to this most special of animation dynasties.

When Marnie Was There opens in Australia on 14 May 2015 and USA on 22 May.


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