When Marnie Was There Will Absolutely Mess You Up, In A Good Way

When Marnie Was There is quite possibly the final movie from Studio Ghibli, the source of wonderment for the past 30 years. And it’s not in the top tier of Ghibli movies, but it’s still pretty wonderful... and beautifully sad. Check out an exclusive clip, and read our review.

Marnie has been out in U.S. theaters for a while, but we finally got to see it this past weekend. It was worth the wait — this ghost story about a strange friendship between two young girls is trippy and intense. And it made me cry towards the end, without being too manipulative or cloying.

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Here’s a clip from the film (dubbed in English), exclusively at io9:

When Marnie Was There is based on a 1967 novel of the same title by Joan G. Robinson, and it’s pretty faithful to the novel’s storyline. Anna Sasaki is an orphan who’s being raised by a foster mother (and father, though he’s never around.) She’s bitter and socially socially maladjusted after the death of her mother and grandmother, and doesn’t get along with other kids at school. Plus she suffers from asthma.

So Anna’s foster mother decides to send her to the seaside, hoping the sea air will help her breathing and also give her a new outlook. She goes to live with a kindly older couple, the Oiwas, who seem not to care when Anna acts out or disappears for long stretches at a time. Anna seems doomed to sink further into depression and isolation, until she meets a mysterious blonde girl named Marnie and makes a friend at last.

Of course, Marnie isn’t a regular little girl, and the mystery of just who Marnie is and what happened to her occupies a lot of the movie. It’s obvious from pretty early on that there’s something weird about the Marsh house where Marnie lives: Sometimes there are lavish parties happening there, with people in old-timey clothes, and sometimes it looks as though it’s been deserted for decades. An attentive viewer will start to figure out what’s going on pretty quickly.

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There’s a dreamlike quality to a lot of the sequences between Anna and Marnie, with the passage of time depicted in a disjointed fashion that’s kind of jolting. And often their encounters do end up with Anna finding herself asleep, either at home in bed or in a ditch somewhere. Meanwhile, Studio Ghibli’s trademark gorgeous landscapes and beautiful creatures (whose motion feels well observed and lively) are joined to an atmosphere that includes lots of mist and unpredictable water. Director Hiromasa Yonebayashi, who’s making his debut here after working on several other Ghibli films, creates a beautiful visual palette. [Correction: Actually, he previously directed The Secret World of Arietty.]

What makes Marnie so terrific is the careful way it depicts Anna’s emotional arc, showing her opening up to this one little girl. And the film carefully depicts how Anna’s friendship with Marnie changes her relationships with the other people around her — it’s not as simple as Anna being torn between Marnie and the other people in her life, but it’s also not as simple as Anna learning to open up after befriending Marnie. This movie’s emotional and psychological complexity is its great overwhelming strength.

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Like I said, When Marnie Was There isn’t up to the incredibly high standard of the best Ghibli films — but it’s still beautiful and sweet, and a powerful film about a girl discovering who she really is.

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