When Marnie Was There (2014)
When Marnie Was There first piqued my interest when I saw the movie’s posters in Japan when I was there earlier this year. At that point, I hadn’t even heard of it in back here in the States. Fortunately, I managed to find the one theater in the Boston area that was not only showing the movie, but also had showtimes for the movie with its original Japanese language track with English subtitles. I’m sorry, but I think watching an English dub of any foreign language movie is a sign of weakness, much like using black paint to shade or using store-bought pasta sauce.
When Marnie Was There (思い出のマーニー) follows Anna as she moves to the countryside to live with some relatives in order to relieve herself of the stress of living in Sapporo. There she finds a mansion and a girl with a mysterious past.
In general, I always have high hopes when going into a Studio Ghibli movie. It may be because of how many I have seen where the only one to disappoint was Pom Poko. Of course, since When Marnie Was There was in fact not directed by Miyazaki Hayao, but rather Yonebayashi Hiromasa, I shouldn’t necessarily expect Miyazaki-level quality as Pom Poko demonstrated.
So was When Marnie Was There directed by Miyazaki? No. Was it any good? Absolutely!
Studio Ghibli is alas the only mainstream studio that makes traditional cel-animated films. It’s unfortunate because When Marnie Was There, like every other Ghibli film I’ve ever seen, had absolutely gorgeous animation. Anna moved (and fell) in natural ways and the movie had some of the best water effects I’ve ever seen.
When Marnie Was There had the simplest story (based on the novel of the same name by Joan G. Robinson) I’ve seen in a Ghibli film in a long time. Movies like The Wind Rises and From Up on Poppy Hill had larger events like World War II and the 1964 Olympics play feature heavily into their stories, while When Marnie Was There served just as a character study for its leads.
We see Anna clearly unhappy with her current existence while Marnie has an apparently perfect life with wealthy parents. Nothing is quite what it seems.
What the movie got right was its pacing. I learned about the leads at exactly the right pace for a roughly 100-minute-long movie. The movie benefited by not having any more characters than it needed, which was a very unfortunate pratfall for The Avengers: Age of Ultron, which was the last movie I reviewed.
All in all, When Marnie Was There, like most Ghibli movies, is a winner. The RottenTomatoes consensus seemed to indicate that critics wished the movie contained Spirited Away-levels of magic, which I completely disagree with. When Marnie Was There was just an example of a Japanese “less is more” doctrine.