When Marnie Was There

Year: 2014
Studio: Studio Ghibli
Director: Hiromasa Yonebayashi
Writer: Keiko Niwa/Masashi Ando/Hiromasa Yonebayashi
Cast: Sara Takatsuki/Hailee Steinfeld, Susumu Terajima/John C Reilly, Toshie Negishi/Grey Griffin

Anna (Sara Takatsuki in the native dub, Hailee Steinfeld in the English version) is an unhappy, poorly 12 year old living in the city with her loving but frustrated foster mother, and after an asthma attack at school, the doctor prescribes time away in some clean air.

Anna'a mother sends her to stay with her Aunt and Uncle, an eternally perky couple (played by Susumu Terajima and Toshie Negishi/John C Reilly and Grey Griffin) who potter around their workshop and garden, make it clear they're there for Anna if she needs but who mostly leave her alone.

She finds herself drawn to an abandoned mansion across the lake, which she rows over to repeatedly, but one day she discovers it's not abandoned at all, it's home to a blonde girl her age called Marnie who takes to Anna, befriending her immediately while somehow keeping her own story at arm's length, making Anna promise not to tell anybody about her and signalling that there's a much deeper mystery there.

I straight away assumed Marnie was the ghost of someone who'd lived and died there – the story presents the mansion as alternately boarded up and falling down and lit up with life and laughter and full of people. It made me look forward to finding out exactly what or who Marnie was, but when it was all explained in a bit of a rush during the final act I actually found it a bit less satisfying than in most of Studio Ghibli's films.

It all connects, but in between the silent fisherman who first takes Anna to the mansion and the little girl who moves in with her family and finds more out about Marnie than Anna knew, it all came out a bit of a mishmash.

What can't be overlooked however is the Ghibli house style of gorgeous 2D animation that presents nature, water, waves, landscapes and houses feeling more realistic than a hundred Hollywood CG animated studio efforts ever could. It's got the sense of languid movement all their films do and you can almost feel the wind across the water and through the trees.

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