By Nico Beland
Movie Review: A+ (4 stars)
We certainly got a lot of memorable movies from Hayao Miyazaki’s Studio Ghibli, didn’t we? We had the action packed Castle in the Sky, the magical Kiki’s Delivery Service, the intense fan favorite, Princess Mononoke, and the unforgettable masterpiece, Spirited Away. And even the Studio Ghibli projects that Hayao Miyazaki didn’t direct were mostly pretty solid like The Cat Returns, The Secret World of Arrietty, The Tale of the Princess Kaguya, and Goro Miyazaki’s From Up on Poppy Hill, and here’s another one, When Marnie was There, based on the book by Joan G. Robinson.
Now let me make one thing perfectly clear, I never read the book coming into this movie so I have no idea how closely it follows the book, also I ended up going to an English subtitled showing of the movie so I can’t critique the English dub release. But as a moviegoer, this is probably one of the best anime movies in the Studio Ghibli library, the animation is beyond beautiful, the characters are very well developed and memorable, the emotion is incredibly strong, and the Japanese language made the emotion feel more natural and alive than any American dub.
12-year-old Sapporo girl, Anna Sasaki (voiced by Sara Takatsuki) who lives with her foster parents, Yoriko and her husband and loves to sketch is sent to spend the summer in Kushiro, a rural town by the sea with clean air, after she collapses from an asthma attack. She stays with relatives of Yoriko, Setsu and Kiyomasa Oiywa, and at first she has a tough time adapting to the new town, until one night she rows to a mysterious mansion by the sea and meets a beautiful young girl named Marnie (voiced by Kasumi Arimura).
Anna and Marnie get to know each other by talking to each other while rowing in the sea, dancing at fancy parties at the mansion, and sharing Marnie the sketches that she drew. However Marnie tells Anna that their friendship must be kept secret and asks her to promise not to tell anyone.
Anna soon discovers that Marnie has a very tragic backstory involving her Nanny and the mansion’s mean housemaids, honestly it’s sounding a lot like an anime Cinderella scenario, but I digress, and Anna decides that she will do anything for her friend and stand up against those that made Marnie’s life terrible and she may eventually discover a secret truth about Marnie.
Overall, When Marnie Was There is a breathtaking anime movie, even without Hayao Miyazaki’s involvement it still manages to deliver something amazing through its animation and complex characters. Also the Japanese audio feels more authentic when watching the movie in an art house theater, it almost feels like watching the movie in Japan, but I may check out the English dub of the film sometime soon, but that’s for another day.
The Japanese voice actors read their lines very well and leave an impact on you, the viewer. When they are happy and having fun, you feel happy, when something sad happens to them, you feel sad along with them, which is exactly why I describe Studio Ghibli as the anime equivalent of Pixar.
The animation is gorgeous looking, especially the animation on the water, a lot of the time it looks like you could swim or row in that water. The scenery is also very colorful and lifelike, it looks a lot like Japanese art paintings mixed with animation, you can really tell the animators put a lot of time, thought, heart, and effort into the animation.
Best Studio Ghibli movie ever? No, that’s still reserved for Spirited Away, but I can consider it the best non-Hayao Miyazaki related Studio Ghibli movie I’ve seen since The Secret World of Arrietty and From Up on Poppy Hill. Any fan of anime should definitely check this movie out, dubbed, subtitled, or otherwise.