思い出のマーニー (When Marnie Was There), directed by Hiromasa Yonebayashi, is the most recent movie in Studio Ghibli’s filmography, was very well-received by Japanese audiences, and was nominated for Best Animated Film in the 2016 Oscars. It has been a long time since I have seen a new Ghibli film, so needless to say I was a bit hyped to settle in with Evan and watch this.
When Marnie Was There is a highly sentimental film which explores the psychological frailness of Anna, a young preteen struggling with ideas of self-worth and social anxiety. When this anxiety begins to impede on her physical health, Anna is sent away from Sapporo to her Aunt’s house in the country. It is Anna’s mother’s hope that the clear air and change of pace might help sort Anna out both physically and emotionally. After just a short time in her new surroundings, Anna is drawn to a mysterious mansion and meets Marnie, its equally mysterious inhabitant. Anna quickly becomes infatuated with Marnie and works to learn more about her. Therein lies her major character arc.
Although it was marketed as a children’s movie, I don’t believe that Marnie has much to offer child audiences. Anna is a brooding, moody lead character. Even though I can see how she could be relatable for many people, I personally found her a bit insufferable. The story also has troubles with pacing, feels both overly long and sentimental, and could stand for a bit more editing. For adult audiences I believe that the eventual plot reveals are too predictable, and feel quite disconnected from and didn’t truly address the real underlying issues that seemed to be causing Anna’s suffering. At times I felt as though Marnie had potential to give me more, and that the film would push into more exciting terrain, but at the critical moment the tension would ease off and fall suddenly flat. Marnie‘s settings are gorgeous and beautifully rendered, a quality typical of all Ghibli films, but despite that it lacks the immersiveness of Ghibli at its finest.
Looking back at what I’ve written I see this review is rather scathing. It isn’t that I hated When Marnie Was There. I think I had been hoping for another Ghibli masterpiece without realizing it and was let down when it didn’t deliver. My bar has been set incredibly high for Ghibli, and Marnie was well below it in underwhelming, though not horrible, territory.