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Now on Netflix - WHEN MARNIE WAS THERE

when marnie was there review
A troubled young girl makes a mysterious new friend.



Review by Eric Hillis

Directed by: Hiromasa Yonebayashi



Though it's been around for over three decades, Studio Ghibli only really gained a foothold in the west in the past couple of decades, as animation fans sought out an alternative to the CG rendered stories offered by Hollywood. With both the studio's founders - Hayao Miyazaki and Isao Takahato - calling time on their careers, it seems When Marnie Was There will serve as the final movie solely produced by the revered Japanese animation centre of excellence (The Red Turtle is a European co-production).


When Marnie Was There review

Miyazaki's protege Hiromasa Yonebayashi's adaptation of Joan G Robinson's children's book serves as an appropriate allegory for the semi-shuttering of Ghibli's windows. It's the tale of 12-year-old Anna, who lives with her foster parents in the city of Sapporo, her own family having perished in an accident when she was five. In the opening scene we see her seated on a bench, alone, as other kids play together. Suffering an asthma attack, she tells us she "hates herself."


When Marnie Was There review

To help get some fresh air into her lungs, Anna is sent to live with her aunt and uncle in an idyllic fishing village, not unlike those seen in the films of Yasujiro Ozu, or Hirokazu Kore-eda's Our Little Sister. There she discovers a mysterious old house, cut off from the mainland by a marsh, but accessible when the tide is out (did Robinson's tale influence Susan Hill's novel 'The Woman in Black' perchance?). Anna goes to investigate and is greeted by an angelic blond-haired girl, the titular Marnie. The two immediately become friends, but when Anna returns to the house, there is no sign of Marnie; in fact, a completely different family is now living in the house. Was Marnie a figment of Anna's fragile mind?

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Ghibli's final(?) film owes much to classic Hollywood melodramas like The Portrait of Jennie and Rebecca. Indeed several Hitchcock works are subtly referenced - we're told the village is peaceful thanks to the completion of a highway, as in Psycho, and there's a traumatic ascent in a grain silo that's a clear homage to Vertigo, along of course with the title. Should you wish to introduce your kids to classic cinema, you could do worse than employ When Marnie Was There as an animated primer.


When Marnie Was There review

At time's it's a genuine tear-jerker. It's impossible not to sympathise with Anna's misjudged feelings of abandonment, but she's not portrayed in any simplistic, holier than thou fashion. We see her behave cruelly towards other children, mocking a girl's weight in one particularly uncomfortable scene.

In essence this is a movie about letting go of the past and accepting those who wish to now take care of you, and in this way it speaks to those Ghibli fans mourning the exit of Miyazaki and Takahato. Yonebayashi's movie may not stand up to the classics of the studio, but if Ghibli is to carry on in some form or other, we're in safe hands on this evidence.

When Marnie Was There is on Netflix UK now.