U – 103mins – 2014
FINE ON THE OUTSIDE
Transposing the setting of Joan G. Robinson’s 1967 children’s book from North Norfolk to Sapporo, Japan, Arrietty director Hiromasa Yonebayashi’s second feature film is otherwise respectfully dutiful to its classic source material – a book which Studio Ghibli founder Hayau Miyazaki proclaimed one of his top fifty children’s stories of all time.
“I wish for a normal life every day.”
When socially awkward introvert Anna (Hailee The Edge of Seventeen Steinfeld) suffers an asthma-induced panic attack at school, her doctor suggests it might be in the twelve-year-old’s best interests for a change of scenery and some fresh air. Packed off to the seaside to stay with her aunt and uncle for the summer, Anna is beguiled by the supposedly empty Marsh House and the blonde girl she sees not just at the window, but also in her dreams…
“Why is it that mansion feels familiar somehow?”
As the summer rolls on, Anna and the sweet-but-secretive Marnie (Kiernan Mad Men Shipka) strike up a friendship enhanced by their seemingly shared feeling of pain and discontent: orphaned Anna is hurt because she has discovered that her foster parents receive a monthly subsidy for looking after her, while Marnie reveals the hardship of her upbringing and mistreatment at the hands of her cruel nan and heartless maids.
When young Sayaka (Ava Once Upon A Time Acres) and her family move into Marsh House, she discovers Marnie’s diary and sets Anna on a journey of discovery and enlightenment: exactly who is the mysterious Marnie? Is she real or a concoction of artful Anna’s creative imagination, and how can her story help to bring light and peace to Anna’s own bottled-up issues?
“She’s just someone I invented… An imaginary girl.”
Deftly handling such mature, sombre themes as neglect, resentment and regret without an iota of condescension to its young audience and assimilating them into a beautifully animated anime drama which is tragic, tender, touching and ultimately heart-warming, Ghibli’s swansong following the announcement of their filmmaking hiatus is a treat to be treasured.
While all the ingredients are in place – including some gorgeous ethereal mist-shrouded sequences which blur the line between reality and fantasy – I must confess that for me, When Marnie Was There fell just short of recapturing the magic of the Studio’s greatest output, particularly because Anna is slower than the audience at piecing together the film’s central mystery. Nevertheless, this is still animated gold worthy of your time and your tears.
CR@B’s Claw Score: