LFF 2015: When Marnie Was There

Janz Anton-Iago

It’s easy to see When Marnie Was There will touch a lot of emotional chords, and not only because it’s Studio Ghibli’s final effort (in the interim, at least), but also because its themes of memory and loss bear such poignant resonance. Hiromasa Yonebayashi, a Ghibli name overshadowed by stalwarts Miyazaki and Takahata, adapts a Joan Robinson novel and turns it into a tender, aching melodrama that wrings staple elements of the Ghibli canon – childhood loneliness, idyllic countryside, supernatural visions and coming-of-age. While this doesn’t measure up to the greatness of his contemporaries’ work, Yonebayashi draws some wistful, melancholic truths about the pain of growing up and an existential sadness that runs through the sinuous tapestry of life. But with most Ghibli films, When Marnie Was There doesn’t do any grandstanding sermons but rather allows its storytelling to fully unwrap the mysteries at its core.

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While this doesn’t measure up to the best of Ghibli canon, Yonebayashi draws some wistful, melancholic truths about the pain of growing up and an existential sadness that runs through the sinuous tapestry of life.

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Like Ghibli’s (superior) penultimate effort The Tale of Princess Kaguya, this is a female-led narrative that grounds the fantastical into a completely phenomenological realm. The anguished heroine of Takahata’s opus feels like a soul sister of Anna, the sad, solitary teen protagonist of this story, a peerless, woebegone young woman harbouring artistic yearnings and a vague, inherent melancholia beneath a withdrawn exterior. Any orphaned kid have all the right to be sad, as Anna takes refuge away from the city to recuperate in a bucolic seaside town of Hokkaido, subsequently encountering the ghostly, nighttime apparition of the eponymous Marnie, the blonde girl who turns up from a seemingly haunted mansion across the marshes.

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If it weren’t for its Only Yesterday-esque subtle emotional undertow, this would’ve easily become a mildly creepy and alternately cheesy ghost story. But Yonebayashi’s attention to storytelling is laudable that by the time we reach the denouement, a whole history of heartbreak has been told, the entire mystery has been solved and we find ourselves softly whimpering over the film’s closing credits. No animated film supposedly made for children deserves grown-up man-tears like mine, but it’s a testament to the beautiful legacy of Ghibli and the studio’s incredible, sheer propensity for intelligent, emotional moviemaking that brings out the wise human beings in everyone.

 

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