When Marnie Was There
dir Hiromasa Yonebayashi
prd Yoshiaki Nishimura
scr Keiko Niwa, Masashi Ando, Hiromasa Yonebayashi
voices Sara Takatsuki, Kasumi Arimura, Nanako Matsushima, Toshie Negishi, Susumu Terajima, Hitomi Kuroki, Hana Sugisaki, Ryoko Moriyama
English voices Hailee Steinfeld, Kiernan Shipka, Geena Davis, Grey Griffin, John C Reilly, Vanessa Williams, Ava Acres, Catherine O'Hara
release Jpn 19.Jul.14, US 22.May.15, UK 10.Jun.16
14/Japan Studio Ghibli 1h43
When Marnie Was There
A personal odyssey: Marnie and Anna

steinfeld davis reilly
london film fest
R E V I E W    B Y    R I C H    C L I N E
When Marnie Was There Based on the Joan G Robinson novel, this yet is another gorgeously animated film from Studio Gibli, showing a complexity and emotional resonance rare in most mainstream dramas. It's about a young girl struggling to make sense of her life, and while the story is a bit head-scratchingly surreal, it's also packed with important insight.

Anna (Takasuki) lives in Sapporo with her foster mother Yoriko (Matsushima), but struggles to fit in with the giggly girls at school. After an asthma attack, her mother sends the 12-year-old to the countryside to stay with an aunt and uncle (Negishi and Terajima) who give her space to explore the local countryside. She feels drawn to a sprawling seaside mansion, befriending the free-spirited blonde girl Marnie (Arimura) who lives there. As their secret friendship blossoms, Anna is aware that Marnie is an imaginary friend. Until she finds Marnie's diary behind a bookshelf.

Where this goes is quite twisty, with several revelations that feel somewhat contrived. But what sets this film apart is its bold approach to Anna's journey to self-discovery. She's clearly a talented artist, yet she hates herself for more reasons that she can recite. And she's sure no one else likes her either. So it's intriguing to see her almost accidentally befriend another young girl (Sugisaki) as well as an older woman (Kuroki) who paints by the sea. These relationships are a bit convenient, plot-wise, but are also very telling.

Visually, the film is in the standard Gibli style, with fairly simple hand-drawn characters and sumptuously painted backgrounds. The sense of light and movement is exquisite, again proving that you don't need lots of flashy digital trickery or 3D to make dazzling animation. And the images cleverly reflect the honesty and layered personalities of the characters, adding striking details and witty visual touches that create both a sense of youthful yearning and even an undercurrent of horror.

Frankly, it's all a bit slow and deep for younger audiences who are used to flashier entertainment. This is basically a story for grown-ups trying to understand elements of their own childhood, or perhaps for older teens who are grown-up enough to look into their own psychological background. And most of all, anyone who feels like an outsider will find in Anna a character they can identify with strongly, even though like her they might not understand quite why that is.

cert u themes, some intensity 31.Mar.16

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