Review: When Marnie Was There / Omoide no Marnie

Studio Ghibli has returned with yet another high-quality offering for fans and newcomers of all ages. When Marnie Was There is based on the book by Joan G. Robinson and explores the life of two young girls who come from different worlds, but are linked in a very special way.

The film is an engrossing story of friendship, hardship, and learning to grow up without giving up.

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Our main character is Anna, a girl of just 12 who is sent away from her home in Tokyo to live with relatives in the countryside. Anna suffers from asthma and lives with crippling anxiety. She’s a talented artist but struggles with her illness and finds it hard to make friends. The story focuses very closely on her but does a good job of illustrating her initial plight without feeling too cliche. Anna is easy to connect with, and the characters around her feel very realistic too.

Soon enough Anna meets a very beautiful, mysterious young girl across the water from her new home. The young girl is Marnie, and the two quickly become special friends. Anna almost can barely believe her luck. Marnie is brave and adventurous, and on top of that she even lives in a mansion… But it’s not until Anna begins to wonder who Marnie really is that the story takes off.

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The narrative is well told and a number of trademark Ghibli features are on display. Scenes and environments are beautifully hand drawn and the characters are all vibrant and expressive. I found the pacing of the film to be a little slow for the first half, but considering the quality of sound and animation this didn’t really feel like much of a drawback.

Studio Ghibli live up to their reputation for remarkable attention to detail, and When Marnie Was There is no exception. The little country town and the nearby marshlands are just breathtaking, and Marnie’s mansion is a sight to behold. You can distinctly hear the sound of wooden floorboards creaking underfoot in Anna’s home, and the gentle buzz of insects and other wildlife from outside. It’s almost magical, and audiences both young and old will find themselves immersed in Anna’s world with ease.

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A cast of relativley unknown voice actors even paid off astonishingly well, the characters are brought to life with passsion and enthusiasm. There’s plenty to like across the board here, an it’s easy to feel the creative care and dedication that went into the whole film.

When Marnie Was There didn’t feel quite as absorbing as some of Studio Ghibli’s more fantasy-based stories although there are a few dreamy moments along the way, and the harsher realism is set up for a purpose. The film does stand up on its own though and communicates a interesting story with its own sense of wonder and intrigue.

I think many viewers will have just about unraveled the mystery element to the film by the time the end credits roll, but this doesn’t really subtract from the enjoyment because it’s just plain fun to watch.

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8/10

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