When shy, artistic Anna moves to the seaside to live with her aunt and uncle, she stumbles upon an old mansion and a mysterious young girl, Mamie, who lives there. The two girls instantly form a unique friendship that blurs the lines between fantasy and reality. As the days go by, a magnetic pull draws Anna back to the Marsh House again and again, and she begins to piece together the truth surrounding her strange new friend.
A masterpiece of atmosphere, immaculate pacing and a carefully crafted musical score - When Marnie Was There is a deep story filled with human emotions that will touch the hearts of many and leave no one to indifference for years to come. And to only say the score is great would be unfair for the people involved making it: the score is what really and truly stands out and accompanies the movie’s poignant visuals, which nonetheless are chiseled to near perfection.
Director Hiromasa Yonebayashi’s previous feature 'The Secret World of Arrietty' resulted in great amount of fame after its initial release gathered by its maker, thus propelling Hiromasa onto the scene of contemporary Japanese animation as one of the most promising Japanese directors today. This resulted in his next work and studio Ghibli partnership in order to produce When Marnie Was There – a heartwarming coming-of-age tale told via the perspective of characters Anna and Marnie – two girls who may or may not exist in the real world.
As events unravel, we get a nostalgic hint at some older Miyazaki works that mimic or mirror When Marnie Was There’s relationship between two given girls. But unlike My Neighbour Totoro which followed two sisters within their daily activities, When Marnie Was There presents this relationship far deeper than everything we have seen from the Japanese animation studio before. And it just feels more real and plays livelier than a simple character’s arc from adolescence to adulthood which is an annoyingly common occurrence these days within the movie-making industry.
And the complexity of When Marnie Was There is no mere coincidence given the fact that it’s based on Joan G. Robinson’s intrepid novel of the same name.
The story is realized through different twists and turns that give the audience enough thrill, which, backed by the impeccable suspense all throughout its running time, will keep moviegoers involved until the very end. And boy does the end deliver in all its tear-jerking glory: when you happen to care and root about fictional characters trying to realize their goal and find out their true identity into a non-forgiving world – then you’ve just found yourself a winner ladies and gents.
When it comes to cinematography, I’m especially generous at hand-drawn animation for the simple fact that everything, from shadows to light to the slightest of details, has to be done manually. Sure, When Marnie Was There combines techniques flawlessly and seamlessly without it interfering into the story. Notice how I use the noun ‘story’ over and over again. This should be a hint to what exactly you should focus your attention onto. Thank me later.
Overall, When Marnie Was There is a gorgeous adaptation that also happens to stand as a work on its own merit. If you’re open for new experiences and visual storytelling, then you should definitely put When Marnie Was There on your bucket list for the next movie session alone.