Director: Hiromasa Yonebayashi
Writers: Joan G. Robinson (novel), Keiko Niwa (screenplay)
After an asthma attack, Anna’s foster parents send her to the seaside, hoping both that her health will improve and that she will become less withdrawn. There Anna continues to isolate herself,until she sees a mysterious light in an old house on the marsh and meets Marnie, the girl who lives there. But is Marnie even real?
When Marnie Was There is potentially Studio Ghibli’s final film and thus of special interest to fans, not only because it might be the last offering from a great studio but also because it points to what future world could look like, should Studio Ghibli continue. Even without Hayao Miyazaki, this film is beautifully rendered and has something of that touch of the magical with which he imbued his work.
Here we have many of the typical elements of a Ghibli film–the gorgeous landscapes; the slow interludes showing the passage of a train or something equally, seemingly mundane; the young girl protagonist. Anne is not quite the believer in magic who often populates these films. Instead, she is a self-pitying loner with a tendency to reject love and sabotage her relationships. She is endearing nonetheless. And she is about to embark on an adventure that blurs the lines between fantasy and reality.
This adventure, I admit, did not play out exactly how I might have wished it to. Perhaps this is due to the way the novel was written–I don’t really know. But there are glimpses of moments that might have been expanded, such as Anna’s spat with some local girls, or the quick looks at Marnie’s home life. And, finally, there is the ending.
[Spoilers for the end of the film in this paragraph.] The story sets Anna and Marnie’s friendship up as a budding romance (despite the presence of a boy in Marnie’s life–a boy Anna is clearly jealous of.) Then the plot unravels. It soon becomes clear that Marnie and Anna must be related. One might argue that this makes the lesbian romance less objectionable to audiences (Joan G. Robinson published the novel in 1967 so she was probably concerned about that), but the choice has perhaps unintended repercussions. Firstly, the story no longer makes sense. It was written as a romance and then the writer essentially says “Haha! Just kidding!” and pretends the declarations of love and longing stares never happened. It destroys the integrity of the story. Secondly, it just makes things awkward. How are audiences supposed to feel about Anna crushing on the ghost of her grandmother?
The ending really marred this work for me. I recognize that it’s a beautiful film, that it has compelling characters, that it captures the magic Studio Ghibli is known for. But when I think about the plot is finally undermined, it’s difficult for me to envision myself watching this movie again.