When Marnie Was There (U)

When Marnie Was There. Photo: Studio Ghibli

When Marnie Was There. Photo: Studio Ghibli - Credit: Archant

Nominated as Best Animated Feature at this year's Oscars, writer-director Hiromasa Yonebayashi's tender coming-of-age story is sensitively adapted from Joan G Robinson's book of the same name, which was originally set on the Norfolk Coast.

Twelve-year-old Anna Sasaki (voiced by Sara Takatsuki) lives in Sapporo with her foster parents, but she remains emotionally aloof, conscious that they are only taking care of her because the state pays them. Following a severe asthma attack in the city, Anna's foster mother Yoriko (Nanako Matsushima) sends the girl to spend the summer with relatives Kiyomasa and Setsu Oiwa (Susumu Terajima, Toshie Negishi), who live by the sea where there is less smog.

In this coastal idyll, Anna is inextricably drawn to a crumbling mansion, located across an overgrown salt marsh. She encounters a young girl called Marnie (Kasumi Arimura) and becomes drawn into the history of the mansion and the people who used to live there.

There is poignancy in this Japanese animation. The sadness however comes less from its story and more from it being, as things stand, the final film from the legendary Studio Ghibli.

The retirements of its two leading directors and co-founders, Isao Takahata and Hayao Miyazaki, have left a gap that the rest of the company has failed to fill.


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The loving craftsmanship and Miyazaki's gently dictatorial quality control, that once made the company so special – doing everything in house, retaining a large permanent staff, even when there was nothing in production – became weaknesses once the hits dried up.

When Marnie underperformed in Japan on its 2014 release, it announced a 'temporary' halt to production. In retrospect, a certain air of gloom has hung over the studio's films for about a decade; only Ponyo was really upbeat and happy.

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This film has many of the traditional Ghibli traits: lots of greenery and fresh air, a sick character needing to convalesce and a focus on an uncertain young girl trying to find her place in the world.

It is lovely as almost all Ghibli films are, but the story has more melodrama than real charm, and it all makes for a rather mopey farewell.

*** (3 stars)

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