When Marnie Was There, nominated for the Japanese Academy Prize for Animation of the Year 2015, is rumoured to be the last Studio Ghibli film, news which will surely come as a blow to many anime fans around the world. Although only few casual viewers are acquainted with Studio Ghibli's other wonderful works, animated fantasy films such as Spirited Away, The Secret World of Arrietty and 2015 Oscar nominee – The Tale of the Princess Kaguya, are just few of the many successes which have propelled them to, as well as forever secured their legacy, amongst the top animated film studios.
While this swansong of an anime does have Ghibli's trademark masterful storytelling and world-class animation, it does not have the characteristic other-worldly scenarios that most Studio Ghibli films thrive off; rather it is one of the most down-to-earth movies ever produced by the studio. This is a mystery story set in a slightly supernatural backdrop. Anna, a very introverted 12 year old, is sent to live in the country-side with her foster mother's relatives, Setsu and Kiyomasa Oiwa, for the summer to get fresh air to recover from her asthma. Upon arriving, she is entranced by a mansion on a marsh as soon as she lays eyes on it. At the very onset of the film, Kiyomasa, tells her not to go there too often, jokingly reasoning that it is “haunted”.
The film dwells deep into how even a child at the age of 12 can have dark emotions brewing without being purposefully evil. It shows how these emotions can act to isolate a person – something almost all of us can relate to. Anna, being an avid sketch artist, goes out of her way to draw the mansion on her notebook. On one of those trips to the marsh, she meets Marnie, a strange blond girl about her age, and they instantly form their own secret friendship, while discovering secrets of their own.
Other than a great plotline, shrouded with intrigue, the animation itself is very well executed and absolutely stunning. Moreover, it has a soundtrack that complements the film magnificently. The theme song, “Fine on the Outside” by Priscilla Ahn, has lyrics which capture the essence of the film perfectly.
It is a movie that will resonate not only for younger audiences but will also captivate adults. Though it isn't really a “family movie” due to some of its thematic elements, it is rated PG; nonetheless, it is one of those movies that can provoke intense emotions from almost anyone of any age.
If you are familiar with the usual Studio Ghibli standards, you can be forgiven for expecting elaborately stretched realities, enormous forest spirits or anything of the sort. If that is what you want, you will be disappointed. However, if you can be content with a beautifully animated film, with a heart-touching story, then definitely watch When Marnie Was There.