When Marnie Was There

"Very Good"

When Marnie Was There Review


Japan's Studio Gibli has been responsible for some of the finest animated movies in recent decades, from 2003's Oscar-winning Spirited Away to last year's beautiful The Tale of the Princess Kaguya. Now adapted by Disney with a starry Western voice cast, their films are reaching a wider audience. And this remarkably moving drama shows how complex an animated movie should be, skilfully grappling with grown-up themes through a child's perspective.

The story comes from the Joan G. Robinson novel about Anna (voiced by Hailee Steinfeld in the English-language version), a 12-year-old who lives in Sapporo with her foster mother Yoriko (Geena Davis). But Anna isn't like the other giggly girls at school, and after an asthma attack, she moves to the countryside to live with Aunt Setsu and Uncle Kiyomasa (Grey Griffin and John C. Reilly). They give her plenty of space to explore the area, and when she spots an abandoned seaside mansion, she is unexpectedly drawn to it, befriending Marnie (Kiernan Skipka), the free-spirited girl who lives there. Anna understands that Marnie is an imaginary friend, then is surprised to find Marnie's diary hidden behind a bookshelf in the rambling house.

The twisty plot incorporates a range of elements that keep the audience off-balance: Is this a ghost story? Is Anna mentally unstable because of her difficult background? But the film is much deeper than that, and as Anna takes a fiercely original journey to self-discovery, the film touches on all kinds of resonant themes. For example, Anna struggles with her self-image, never believing that she's a talented artist, although she clearly is. This has left her feeling like no one else likes her either. So it's both fascinating and moving to watch her blossoming relationships with both the young girl Sayaka (Ava Acres) and the older woman Hisako (Vanessa Williams) who paints by the seaside. Both offer emotional insight into Anna's story.

Studio Gibli crafts its animation in a deceptively simple style, with seemingly plain-faced characters and sumptuously painted backdrops, but the artistry captures thoughts and moods with uncanny accuracy, and the imagery looks far more dazzling than digital 3D. As a result, director-cowriter Hiromasa Yonebayashi finds remarkable ways to evoke a powerful sense of Anna's youthful yearning. The film's style may seem a bit slow and simple to younger audiences looking for something fast and silly, but adults and older teens, especially anyone who felt like an outsider, will find this story packed with meaning as they are encouraged to explore how their upbringing has had an impact on everything they are today.

Rich Cline

Watch the trailer for When Marnie Was There:



When Marnie Was There

Facts and Figures

Genre: Animation

Run time: 103 mins

In Theaters: Saturday 19th July 2014

Box Office Worldwide: $561.1 thousand

Distributed by: GKIDS

Production compaines: Studio Ghibli, Hakuhodo DY Media Partners, KDDI Corporation, Nippon Television Network (NTV), Mitsubishi Motors Corporation

Reviews

Contactmusic.com: 3.5 / 5

Rotten Tomatoes: 90%
Fresh: 65 Rotten: 7

IMDB: 7.8 / 10

Cast & Crew

Director: Hiromasa Yonebayashi

Producer: Yoshiaki Nishimura

Starring: Sara Takatsuki as Anna Sasaki (voice), Kasumi Arimura as Marnie (voice), as Yoriko Sasaki (voice), as Kiyomasa Oiwa (voice), as Setsu Oiwa (voice), Ryôko Moriyama as Elderly Lady (voice), as Nanny (voice), as Hisako (voice), Hiroyuki Morisaki as Art Teacher (voice), Takuma Otoo as Neighborhood Association Officer (voice), Hana Sugisaki as Sayaka (voice), Bari Suzuki as Elderly Lady 2 (voice), Shigeyuki Totsugi as Marnie's Father (voice), Ken Yasuda as Toichi (voice), Yo Oizumi as Dr. Yamashita (voice)

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