“When Marnie Was There” made its UK debut in June 2016, and spent a single day in cinemas in Belfast! Luckily; Lee caught it.
Animation often exhibits an exercise in control. With the time afforded to create and edit and rearrange an animated movie, it becomes easy to over-explore a simple premise, to cram too much in to every scene and to move too fast (after all, animation can be many things but ‘cheap’ isn’t one of them). Characterisation is often lost in a whirlwind of fast-paced action set-pieces trying to use the “anything is possible” landscape that animation as a form presents. This is often a great shame too, as animation more readily than live action can capture perfectly and succinctly the very essence of emotion and expression; two wonderful tools for characterisation’s disposal.
This is just some light contextual reasoning for why “When Marnie Was There” is an incredible piece of cinema, and hopefully will prove to be the weaker argument as to why this movie should be hailed as one of the greats. Animation can so easily be a showcase for wonder, since the act of using moving images to tell a cohesive story already borders on magic. To use animation, in the face of all the possibilities and expectations and opportunities to overthink it all, to tell a quiet, simple, human story of a young girl and her crushing identity issues in a grounded rural Japanese setting truly distinguishes the filmmakers as masters; capable of true control over an often reckless artform.
The stronger argument should be focussed on how wonderful the film is in its ambition, craft, execution, charm and overall message.
Simply; Anna is a perfectly realised character. Capturing true depression and self-doubt in a child is a monumental task for any movie and so easily risks failure by being simply too audacious, too indefinite. But here Studio Ghibli are slow; careful. We’re not told the whys and hows; no fingers are pointed. Anna definitely knows why she’s most upset, why she thinks she feels uncomfortable in her own skin, but it’s just one opinion. We don’t attempt to tackle a “cure”; instead we focus on what’s missing and work from there. It’s breathtaking in execution, an absolutely perfect character story from beginning to end.
But “When Marnie Was There” isn’t content to have a small think-piece on depression. Instead, it lathers the story in a beautiful countryside full of memorable, hilarious, adorable characters all of whom play a part in Anna’s story, either as contrasts to her inability to fit in or as compliments to her quiet love for adventure and self-discovery. We spend enough time in this town that we can imagine living there ourselves, and wondering where our place would be in it all.
Then, we have the tone. Part childhood adventure, part mystery-romance; it’s a marvel how effortlessly the two balance each other without obscuring the importance of Anna’s story. As we lose ourselves in the mystery that envelops Anna, we start to feel the catharsis she experiences as she slowly unravels more about herself and her own issues. Each new revelation feels earned, and real, and only strengthens the piece as a whole.
To go any further would be to spoil, and “When Marnie Was There” deserves so much more than that. Its characters are fresh and realistic, its world perfectly realised, its message and intentions genuine, its execution brilliant with only one slightly delayed penny-drop near the end that the audience will certainly already have made five minutes earlier, a complaint so meaningless next to the praise I have for the movie that I feel I have to mention it simply to prove I was paying attention.
I loved “When Marnie Was There” and cannot wait to revisit it.
(Note: I watched this movie with English Subtitles over Japanese voice acting, and would recommend it that way, but that’s just my preference)