After "The Wind Rises" premiered at the Venice Film Festival in 2013, Hayao Miyazaki announced that he was going to be retiring. Although he had stated several times that the film he made would be his last at Studio Ghibli, it seemed like that time he was serious. The following year after Miyazaki's supposed retirement, Studio Ghibli announced they would temporarily halt production on future films so they could figure out where to go without their biggest director though they would eventually resume production when Miyazaki changed his mind and decided to make another film. Before their brief pause, they put out one more film in 2014 named "When Marnie Was There" and it is quite a lovely film. It's a very quiet and mysterious animated film from Studio Ghibli and is yet another example of the caliber of quality films they put out. I was quite entranced with this film.
When an introverted and unhappy girl named Anna (Sara Takatsuki) suffers an asthma attack, she is sent by her adoptive mother Yoriko (Nanako Matsushima) to stay in a rural seaside town of Japan with her relatives Setsu (Toshie Negishi) and Kiyomasa (Susumu Terajima). Despite the change in scenery, Anna still seems unhappy and with low self-esteem until she notices an old abandoned mansion on the banks of the marsh and a blonde-haired girl named Marnie (Kasumi Arimura) there. From there, Anna and Marnie meet quite frequently as Anna starts to wonder who the girl actually is and how it could possibly connect to her.
This is an animated film that felt rather hypnotizing to watch. Studio Ghibli is a studio that can really captivate and capture an audience's attention and this film is no different. The film is directed by Hiromasa Yonebayshi who also directed the very lovely "The Secret World of Arrietty" and would be his final film at Ghibli before leaving to work at Studio Ponoc and he really stepped up his game from "Arrietty" and truly showed his skills as a filmmaker by stepping out of Hayao Miyazaki's shadow. Also, much like "Arrietty", the story is based on a British book that Miyazaki loved and it also focuses on a character staying with a relative away from the city to focus on their health. Where it differs from that film though mainly is in its presentation of a young girl trying to come to grips with her past and the troubles she's suffering because of it. It starts off on a quiet note that's somewhat similar to Ghibli's slice-of-life films, but soon really starts to get going as soon as Anna discovers the mansion. From there, a mysterious quality looms over the film and leads to some very beautiful sequences particularly when the two girls meet. One moment that stood out to me was when Marnie invited the shy Anna to one of her parties and the two girls dance together in the courtyard. That was a lovely scene. Even some of the dramatic moments are nice like Anna and Marnie sharing with each other dark secrets about their lives. With that said, the film may feel a bit confusing at times as I did at first have trouble understanding the reality of the situations between Anna and Marnie though it all came together by the third act. The ending is exceptionally emotional and heartbreaking and it works tremendously well. It's easily my favorite part of the film and what truly made it feel special.
As far as the animation goes, it's once again very lovely. I don't think I need to say anything else that hasn't already been said about Studio Ghibli's animation because it's always been top notch and this film is no exception. The backgrounds in the film particularly stood out as they had lovely shades of green that I adored looking at. There's also the character animation and I liked how some characters were animated differently than others, particularly Marnie who's animated very whimsically which helps gives her a mysterious quality to her. The one detail about the animation I also liked was how the film indicated when fantasies and dreams were happening. The one moment that stood out the most was when Anna was trying to decode Marnie's question regarding her family and the borders of the film started to come apart with pointillistic dots leading to a hazy quality showing her relatives. Moments like this show what masters the artists at Ghibli are. This leads me into discussing the characters. Anna is easily my favorite of the film and the way the film portrays her introversion and low self-esteem is perfectly helmed. As someone who is an introvert and also has low self-esteem problems at times, I really was able to connect with her since her struggles don't feel melodramatic or overly done. I also really liked Marnie as well due to her mystery and I really was hit hard when we find out what happens to her in the end. I also found the relatives Setsu and Kiyomasa really great as well. Rather than take the boring and cliche route of having the relatives start out hostile and grow to like their new addition to their household, this film makes them welcoming of Anna from the start and doesn't openly criticize her or do things you would expect to do. For example, Anna accidentally gets their grown-up daughter's old dress dirty that she borrowed, but they don't complain or punish her about it as I worried the film would. I'm glad they made these characters supportive and happy which felt like a refreshing change of pace. I wish they were in the film a bit more.
With that said, "When Marnie Was There" is another enchantment from Studio Ghibli. The story is mysterious and packs great emotion, the animation is lovely and has tender details, and the characters are great and feel genuine. It's another great example of what stellar animated filmmakers the people of Studio Ghibli are and I can highly recommend it without hesitation. I'm certain there are going to be plenty more times I'll return to this film in the future.