“When Marnie Was There”: a beautifully drawn ghost story from Japan (film review)



Marnie and Anna bones in the Japanese ghost story “When Marnie Was There.” But is Marnie still real?

(Studio Ghibli)


When Marnie was there

Who: Animated film directed by Hiromasa Yonebayashi.

Rated: Rated PG for thematic items and smoking.

Duration of operation: 103 minutes. When: Open on Friday.

Or: Cedar Lee Theater in Cleveland Heights; Night cinema in Akron. Both theaters will screen the English dubbed version before 5 p.m. and the subtitled version after 5 p.m.

Class: A

CLEVELAND, Ohio – No one blurs the line between films for children and adults like famed Japanese animation company Studio Ghibli. Best known in the United States for the poetic works of the founder Hayao miyazaki, Ghibli did it not by presenting sarcastic jokes or sarcastic characters that appeal to adults, but by respecting the intelligence and emotions of children of all ages. And, showcasing some of the brightest hand-drawn animations in the world.

“When Marnie Was There” is Ghibli’s latest export to the United States, and she is proud of its ranks. Based on the English young adult novel of the same name, “When Marnie Was There” is the story of a depressed and lonely 12-year-old adopted child in Sapporo (the book is set in England) who is sent to the countryside for help cure his asthma.

There, Anna meets her very first friend, a mysterious blonde girl in an old-fashioned dress who appears at the window of a ruined mansion in the swamp. Except the mansion doesn’t collapse when Marnie is around. It comes alive with vibrant colors, parties, lanterns and crowds. Marnie invites Anna in and the two quickly become friends. Anna soon learns that Marine’s dream life is not all it seems (although it might really just be a dream). She is neglected by her parents and abused by her nanny. Marnie says she wants SHE to be a foster child.

The two develop a bond and Anna finally seems to be happy when they are together. But strangely, Anna finds herself lost and dazed after every experience with Marnie. She was found lying by the side of the road once; other times, she regresses into her own troubled childhood as Marnie speaks. The mystery is further complicated when Anna befriends a new girl who has moved into the Swamp House and the two find a hidden journal.

Each encounter with Marnie begins to fade shortly after their split, which makes Anna begin to wonder if Marnie is still real. Does she see ghosts? Is the troubled Anna losing her mind? Is Marnie a time traveler? And why does an old woman on the beach recognize Marnie as someone from HER childhood when Anna draws a sketch?

And, perhaps most importantly, will Anna ever be able to learn to bond with other people or will she be forever trapped in her sad past?

The answer to all of this is pleasantly bittersweet – and twisty enough that even adults can guess until the end.

Part ghost story, part coming of age tale, part serious reflection on modern alienation, child abuse and depression, “When Marnie Was There” is not for young children. Themes of mental illness and abuse can fly over their heads, and the bullying scenes can be quite frightening. But for those over 8, it’s a touching tale that’s both respectful of children’s inner emotions and intellect, and an extremely entertaining and beautifully hand-drawn mystery.

(Note: Screenings will be dubbed into English before 5:00 PM and with original Japanese narration and subtitles later. Children may find the English version easier to follow. “Mad Men’s” Kiernan Shipka provides the voice of Marnie in the English version.)


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