When Marnie Was There

When Hayao Mizazaki announced in 2013 that he was retiring from filmmaking, the world of animation lost a true visionary. Although not directed by Miyazaki, When Marnie Was There was released in Japan the following year, and was signposted as the final film from his famed Studio Ghibli before it took an indefinite hiatus.

Now finally receiving a UK cinematic release, it is a fitting final testament, if that’s what it is to be, but probably not up there with the studio’s finest creations. Hiromasa Yonebayashi took the reins for this adaptation of Joan G Robinson’s eponymous novel, with the setting transposed from rural Norfolk to rural Hokkaido. As you would expect the animation is beautiful and the director successfully captures an ethereal, sparse atmosphere that goes hand-in-hand with the narrative’s dreamlike ambiguities.

Anna, a troubled, introverted 12 year old is sent to stay with relatives in a small seaside town. Her relationship with her foster parents is strained due to her self-loathing and lack of communication, but a blossoming friendship with the titular Marnie offers her the chance of fresh insights and reconciliation. Although the character of Anna is a familiar archetype and is not always subtly drawn, this is forgivable for a film aimed at children and adults alike. The story at time loses momentum, and sometimes lacks the components to really draw in the viewer, it can sometimes feel like the film is losing its way amongst its haunting themes, rather than moving forward with purpose.

That said, the ending is hugely well handled, and entirely satisfying, easing almost all doubts one might have about pacing. It is certainly better for a film to lull in the middle and finish strongly than the other way around. The audience for Studio Ghibli films is now pretty well established and they are unlikely to be disappointed by this admirable effort. 
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