When Marnie Was There: NZFF Review
"It's such a sad story" are among some of the words spoken in the final run of Studio Ghibli's latest, When Marnie Was There, based on Brit writer Joan G Robinson.
It's the story of Anna, a shy girl, an outsider who moves to the country to be with her aunt and uncle to help her get better from her asthma. However, while she settles into life there, she fails to garner any new friends in the area due to her inability to socialise and overcome her outsider depression.
But that changes when she becomes enchanted with a mansion on the banks of the shores near where she's staying. There she meets the mysterious blonde girl Marnie, and the two form a secret friendship...but Anna's convinced she's been there before - what is the mystery of Marnie?
When Marnie Was There is a pretty standard Studio Ghibli fare - which is to say it's the usual mix of gorgeous animation, beautiful water-coloured painted backgrounds and amusing moments. And so, nothing to be sniffed at or dismissed.
But there's a vein of sadness that runs pretty heavy in this piece, which mixes child depression, alienation, neglect and abuse into the pot as Anna tries to work out the mystery that haunts her. And unfortunately, it doesn't quite work as well with the central intrigue feeling like it's drawn out a little too long in places, and the piece is book-ended by some seriously garbled quick exposition that tries to join the dots, fill in the blanks and conclude it nicely.
It's not that there's anything inherently wrong with When Marnie Was There in the slightest; it's more that it appears to lack the emotional heft of prior outings. Certainly, the dubbed version I attended had some bright vocal work from the likes of Hailee Steinfeld and John C Reilly. And while the visuals are as gorgeous as ever, the flow seems to be a little disjointed with viewers spending as much time confused as Anna does throughout, keeping the connection a little at bay.
While the themes of friendship and being an outsider are fully embraced and expanded upon, the issues that Anna faces are going to feel very real to some and for that universality, Ghibli is to be commended.
There's no doubt that the ultimate reveal of what's actually going on is heart-breaking to say the least, and the tragedy of it all is wonderfully conveyed thanks to a subtlety of story, but When Marnie Was There didn't quite hit the rich resonant highs I'd been expecting for Studio Ghibli's latest.