In a fairy tale about friendship, family, and perhaps the best display of an internal conflict I’ve seen outside of Inside Out, When Marnie Was There sees Studio Ghibli out with a touching piece.
When Marnie Was There, possibly the glorious Studio Ghibli’s final film, begins as many of their films have done, with a 12-year-old girl who doesn’t feel like she fits in. In what I think is one of my favourite pieces of character establishment moments I’ve seen, Anna, (on the left, voiced by Hailee Steinflield), defines herself and the world in terms of a circle, and her being the only one outside of it. After an asthma attack, her Doctor and foster-mother suggest time in the countryside, and so she spends the summer with relatives of her foster mother that she barely knows. Just what she needs for her anxiety. Out there, she rejects opportunities for friendship until she finds the resident of a mysterious mansion, Marnie (Kiernan Shipka), who has a glamorous but hidden and unkind life. Their friendship is powerful, intense, but fraught by distrust.
It’s hard to say much more about When Marnie Was There without spoiling how wonderfully the plot works. Like other Ghibli films, it makes no sense at times until the tiny details emerge. However, whilst you’re too busy trying to make sense of the film at times, the film is going at a surprising pace, and it sweeps you from your feet.
Whilst Arrietty director, Hiromasa Yonebayashi does not have the huge fantastical set pieces that compete with Spirited Away or The Wind Rises, he does have an ability to make wide vistas look like close-ups and to do some Irvin Kershner style face-frame filling. Marnie doesn’t use expensive set pieces, but it is so tightly wound around Anna’s struggle to accept the world and herself, that you won’t want to spend time thinking about anything else. This is the most I’ve cried at something since Inside Out, to which this is quite comparable, as you will see.
Please do see it, because Only Yesterday‘s recent English Dub release (starring Daisy Ridley) didn’t perform so well, which is a shame. This could be the final animated film that just takes an idea or a personal story that just focuses on expressing that character and nothing more. No, it is not as funny or quite as engaging as previous Ghibli efforts, but it is a fine and true ending if it is the ending, and it would be wrong for this style of film to be forgotten.