Monday, May 11, 2015

Ghibli Takes Its Leave by Leaving Us 'When Marnie Was There'

We all love Studio Ghibli.  We can always expect its movies to be of fantastic, delightful quality.  Whether it’s science fiction/fantasy or purely down-to-earth drama, a trademark Ghibli production is sure to have a heartfelt, amiable story with rich, thoughtful themes conveyed in beautiful, meticulous hand-drawn animation.  And When Marnie Was There is typical Ghibli.  It’s not as marvelous as its predecessors from last year – not as deep as The Wind Rises or as visually refreshing as The Tale of the Princess Kaguya – but it was still nonetheless a special, well-crafted film. 

The movie is based on a 1967 novel by Joan G. Robinson.  It tells the story of a young girl named Anna Sasaki who suffers from asthma and, presumably, melancholia as well.  She is sent by her foster mother to spend time with some relatives in the countryside of Kushiro so that the clean, seaside air and environment can improve her health and disposition.  One day, Anna finds herself charmed and drawn to the Marsh House – an old, deserted mansion that is accessible by foot during low tide.  In her first visit to the place, she sees the Marsh House in its dilapidated condition, but, the next time, it mysteriously takes a revitalized appearance and she meets the blonde girl that resides in it, Marnie.  Anna and Marnie become fast friends, and they secretly meet several times afterwards – having picnics and boat rides, intimate conversations, hand-in-hand walks by the coastline, and even a party in the Marsh House.  However, only Anna can see Marnie.  And whenever Marnie isn’t around, Anna sees the Marsh House just as everyone else sees it – abandoned and rundown. 

So who really is Marnie?  Is she a ghost?  Is she merely a figment of Anna’s unstable psyche?  What’s up with the Marsh House?  Is there a crack in the space-time continuum that allows the past and the present to interact?   Those are the underlying questions that the movie was raising all throughout.

The movie is pretty innocent and warm.  However, the mystery of Marnie really provided a subtly dark and eerie flavor to the story.  I was crazily half-expecting a “jump scare” or Twilight Zone-like twist happening sometime during its narrative.  It provided a tinge of excitement to an otherwise pleasant tone.     

The answer to the mystery (SPOILERS!) wasn’t really supernatural in nature.  Once enough clues have been revealed, it was easy to deduce who Marnie really is and why Anna knows her before the actual revelation is presented.  It requires a bit of soap opera-level of implausible coincidence to work, but it was still a satisfyingly appropriate plot twist.

When Marnie Was There is a lovely, well-made animated movie about friendship, healing, and finding a positive outlook in life.  By itself, this movie has enough reasons to be a must-watch.  But this movie also possesses some additional sentimental value if you are a Studio Ghibli fan.  The studio announced last year that it would take a temporary (hopefully) break from making movies.  Hence, this would be the last Ghibli film for a while, so it’s really worth seeing. 

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