Nominated for an Academy Award for Best Animated Movie, my friend summed it up best when he said, "This is some sad shit."
1. Studio Ghibli is a Japanese anime production company and a force in the animation industry. Several of my favorite animated movies come from them: Grave of the Fireflies, Spirited Away, and Princess Mononoke. This is their newest (and maybe their last) movie, and it shows that they are still masters of storytelling and animation.
2. It's about a 12-year-old foster child named Anna. In the first scene, she tells us she hates herself.
3. Anna also has asthma. Her medical problems, combined with her emotional detachment, prompt her parents to send her to a beachfront community to hopefully find some health. But she doesn't know anybody in the town, so she keeps to herself. Her only "friend" is a grizzled old fisherman who refuses to talk.
4. There's an abandoned house by the lake, and while exploring it, Anna meets a strange young girl named Marnie. Marnie instantly proclaims Anna to be her best and secret friend, and Anna is not allowed to talk about Marnie to anyone.
5. The character of Marnie is really interesting. The movie lets you know right away that something is strange and sad about her. But you also know she's not going to turn into a demon or killer. It's not that kind of movie.
6. The two girls spend a lot of time together, as long as they follow Marnie's rules. Marnie digs Anna's secrets out of her, and starts to reveal her own, too.
7. The animation, while done mostly in the traditional style, is gorgeous. So much attention is paid to detail that the characters are basically moving around inside paintings.
8. The movie is about kids, and there is nothing in it that could be considered inappropriate for kids. But it's not for kids. You have to be an adult in order to feel the full effect of the movie.
9. This is not anime the way many Americans think of it: there are no robots, or weird monsters, or fountains of blood, or samurai. This movie is a quiet, elegant exploration of serious childhood issues such as neglect, abandonment, abuse, sickness, and loss. By not making things obvious, it avoids becoming emotionally manipulative. It's an honest film that draws out honest emotions.