Studio Ghibli films explore a range of genres and themes, but if there is one consistent trend, its the exploration of what it means to be a child in this complicated and downright cruel world. Studio Ghibli films are all about the thoughts and feelings that one experiences in their childhood, and the power of using imagination to make sense of, and if not to ease, the harshness of reality. While these films may explore the ins and out of child’s mind and perception, you need to be an adult to fully understand and appreciate their message. So in essence, Studio Ghibli films are about what it means to be a child but are made for the viewing pleasure of adults. Make sense?
When Marnie Was There has just received a theatrical release in Australia, and it joins Princess Kaguya and The Wind Rises as one of Studio Ghibli’s latest efforts, and it may be a while before we see them produce anything else. Not that it’s a bad thing, because creating a masterpiece takes a lot of time, and if it takes them a decade to produce an instant classic like When Marnie Was There, then they can take as long a hiatus they need.
When Marnie Was There is based on a novel of the same name by Joan Robinson, and comes from director Hiromasa Yonebayashi who was also the director the very magical Studio Ghibli film, Arrietty (which was based on the novel The Borrowers by Mary Norton). It seems like the director has created his own niche with liberal adaptations of popular works of fiction.
When Marnie Was There tells the story of a young girl in foster care named Anna, who suffers from asthma as well as mental health issues that has made her feel withdrawn from the rest of the world. Her guardian sends her to stay with some relatives over the summer, who live in a peaceful rural town. Anna is sent there in hopes that the clean air and slower pace will give her some peace and clarity.
When Marnie Was There essentially retells the summer Anna spent away from her usual urban abode, in a place where she feels more out of place than she ever has. Despite being in an unfamiliar countryside, she makes an unexpected and unusual connection with a mysterious mansion overlooking the marsh. Here she makes her first real friend, a quirky but charming young girl who goes by Marnie. Anna and Marnie create an almost instant connection, almost like they were simply made for each other, and destined to create this enriching friendship together.
When Marnie Was There is grounded in beautiful simplicity, and yet the plot twists and themes it explores are hugely ambitious and complicated. The film’s calming pace will make you feel like you’re experiencing a lazy childhood summer, and give you a powerful sense of serenity. No matter what surprises or vague twists come along, it never deters from its peaceful mood.
When Marnie Was There is about leaving behind the innocence the childhood and learning about the harshness of the world, a transition that is perhaps the loneliest when every other child is still indulged in blissful ignorance. Anna is a child who feels disconnected from her peers, because she was unfortunately smart enough to escape her imagination and see the world for what it is. Yet, despite her realisation of the world and her disenchantment with it, she still finds solace in her artistic imagination. This film follows her journey as she copes with loneliness and isolation, and how her fateful encounter with Marnie helps her discover who she is and her place in the world.
When Marnie Was There is a quaint and emotionally charged experience, a true one of a kind experience. Backed by Studio Ghibli’s trademark visual style and a soundtrack that reels you in, When Marnie Was There is among the finest the studio has ever produced.
I’m tired of using the same hyperbole and praise for every Studio Ghibli classic, but honestly When Marnie Was There is truly a once in a lifetime film. Without using shock or tragedy, it manages to play on your emotions as no other film portrays feelings of longing, nostalgia, and belonging better than When Marnie Was There.
As the credits rolled people around me were wiping their tears, not because the ending was happy or sad, but rather it understood how most of us feel about growing up and finding our place in this world. It’s been a long time since I’ve seen people tear up in the cinema, and for that reason alone When Marnie Was There is something special. Any Studio Ghibli film can be compared to watching a sunset, but every sunset feels special and different– and invokes different feelings– no matter how many times you witness it.
When Marnie Was There is currently playing at select theaters courtesy of Madman Entertainment.