When Marnie Was There – Review


Everyone who reads my reviews regularly already knows that I am a huge Studio Ghibli fan and I consider their collection of films to be my favourite series of films, which meant that this is the film I have really been looking forward to seeing this year, though at the same time I didn’t want to see it as this film has been billed as the one to be the final one for the studio. On one hand, you are hoping they go out on a high and all good things must come to an end, but really, even with a 30 year history, it still feels too soon.

The film is based on a British novel by Joan G Robinson, which I haven’t read so I will be reviewing the film on its own merits, though I did give the book as a present to Dr Buchan and when she sees the film on DVD she will be commenting on whether, like ‘Howl’s Moving Castle’ it’s a loose adaptation or a more faithful adaptation. By the way, how many of you realise that Howl’s Moving Castle was based on a book? There are differences in that film between the book and film, but I am not going to go into that here. The Dom already did that on YouTube and did a much better job than I could have done.

The film itself has been directed by Hiromasa Yonebayashi who studied in the animation department under Hayao Miyazaki and has only previously directed one film The Secret World of Arrietty, which was simply called Arrietty over here and I made sure to re-watch the film which was clearly a big hit considering it is the highest grossing opening weekend for a first time director in Japan. You know what, Arrietty may not be the best Studio Ghibli film, but it’s at least strong and really holds up. The difference between this film and that one is that Yonebayashi had Miyazaki co-write the screenplay, which he doesn’t have for this film. Yonebayashi himself makes his writing debut and co-writes the screenplay with fellow animation department member Masashi Ando along with regular Studio Ghibli collaborator Keiko Niwa who co-wrote the screenplay for this film along with From Up on Poppy Hill, The Secret World of Arrietty and Tales From Earthsea, yet another film that is based on an English novel but again, I haven’t read the books.

When you go into a film like this, you go in with a great amount of expectation which you hope to be kept, but you don’t want it to cloud your judgement on the film because you think all films deserve a fair shot and that was my mind set going into it, but it’s very difficult with something like Studio Ghibli which even at their worst, still come out with something brilliant. But the big question is, ‘was this film a good way for Studio Ghibli to go out and does the source material survive the shift from Norfolk to Hokkaido?’

After suffering an Asthma attack Anna (played by Hailee Steinfeld) is sent by her foster mother to stay with her relatives Kiyomase and Setsu (played by John C Reilly and Grey Griffin) to recover. She still find that she doesn’t fit in this environment any more than her environment at home and while she may be feeling physically better, she is not fairing much better emotionally due to a situation back home and her constant feelings of isolation. It, however, changes when she comes across a mansion in the marshes, which appears inactive much of the time, however a girl from her dreams, Marnie (played by Kiernan Shipka) suddenly appears. The two form a bond with one another out of the necessity that they have for each other and so they try to help each other out in dealing with their problems, however, not everything seems completely right and there is a great mystery here and Anna isn’t quite sure exactly who Marnie is.

Yonebayashi should have a really hard time adapting this source material, however, I wasn’t looking at the film in that sense, in fact for a large portion of the film I completely forgot that this was based on an English novel. I don’t know whether this is a faithful adaptation or if quite a few liberties have been taken (the only major change being the all of the names have been changed to Japanese names to fit the environment with the exception of Anna and Marnie), but I don’t care either way because this film was just fantastic. It does everything that great Studio Ghibli films do in one space. The film has been sold on the image of Anna and Marnie and that is the correct way to sell the film because the film is really about those two and the deep love and bond they share with each other, they seem like complete kindred spirits. Yonebayashi manages to not only do this through amazing dialogue, but through beautiful imagery and he goes into loving detail over giving the perfect facial expressions and allowing the characters to show real emotion most of the time. As usual, for a Studio Ghibli film, we take characters that seem very simple at first, but give them excellent character arcs and by the end we love the characters, and I loved all of these characters so much. You could have possibly have tricked me into thinking I was watching a Miyazaki film, however, unlike Miyazaki, Yonebayashi tends to be a more grounded director as we saw in Arrietty and further in this. That being said, this isn’t exactly a slice of life story, this isn’t Whispers of the Heart, it sort of holds the middle ground between whispers of the heart story and the all out insane imagery of say, Spirited Away. That isn’t to say that this film doesn’t use it’s imagery very well, in fact there is a lot of visual story telling in this film and it has some of the best of flashbacks I have ever seen, they are so good and convey the story so well. As usual, the main characters is where this films lies. Studio Ghibli is very good at this and despite the fact that Marnie is in the title, I think Anna is really the main character. As we see the entire film from her perspective and she has the most important character arc. I have to admit that Anna is one of the best Studio Ghibli heroines. She may be a very depressed young woman initially but she is not a character that is so depressed throughout most of the film that she ends comes off being incredibly selfish and emo to such an extent that we can’t relate to her and find her more annoying than endearing. That definitely is not the case here. Anna has every right to feel the way she feels. Without going into too much detail, because I think the trailers don’t give away too much and I don’t want to reveal beyond what is revealed in the trailer, Anna has great loss in her life and she constantly fears further loss as a result. You just feel for this girl constantly, she doesn’t really have any friends and she feels constantly isolated. It is summed up very well in a line at the beginning of the film which appears in the trailer, ‘in this world there is a magic circle, some are inside, some are outside, and I am outside’. In many other films I would describe this as being a very pretentious line, you know those sorts of films where directors constantly wave their arms saying ‘ask me what it means?’, but in this film it feels very natural and organic and sums up the character perfectly. You really feel like you go through something with her. That’s not to say I didn’t love the other characters. The support cast are really great. While not all of them get as much time as the others, which is good, because I am getting sick of seeing films where the supporting cast take up too much time from the main characters, this one gets the right balance. Everyone does their job and everyone feels like they add to the movie. I can only see this film as having cut out a couple of characters including one character who is really a waste of a Kathy Bates cameo.

The real strength of this movie is the relationship between Anna and Marnie. I loved these two on screen, the best moments of the film are the moments when the two of them share scenes together. The dialogue is natural, the chemistry is fantastic, you really believe these are two young girls who share a deep affection and are discovering their first true friendship despite the fact that both feel as if they don’t belong. It’s really touching at times and you really feel like you go through something with the Characters and by the end you root for them.

There is also a mystery element to the film around what exactly Marnie is and everything that is going on throughout the film, which is where we get one of the side characters that I really enjoyed, however, I won’t go into too much detail about her because I don’t want to give away too much, but here’s to say, she is adorable and infectious and it does feel like she contributes to the plot, mainly because she helps try to solve the mystery. The mystery, however, initially doesn’t feel that important because you feel like it takes away from the relationship and the two of them, but by the end, it all makes sense and it really hammers home what makes this film so good, it’s the loving connections between the main characters.

I must admit, I did kind of see a couple of the twists coming, but unlike many films, when I have seen it coming, this didn’t feel like it detracted, in fact it’s what gave the film the brilliant life firming conclusion that just warmed my heart and just for writing that, I have to hand my testicles in! But I don’t care, it was worth it!!

Not everything was actually explained in the film, but again, for once, it doesn’t really matter because if they had gone too far into more explanation, the film would have been too much exposition and it would have detracted rather than added to the film. There is just enough in here and just enough implied that it gets the point across and does what it needs to do. At the end of the day, it’s not entirely important to know everything, because everything important we do know. I am not going to lie, this is one the most engaging plots of any of the Studio Ghibli films, it really is up there with the best of them in that sense. Initially, it doesn’t start out amazing, but then again, I remember other Studio Ghibli films not starting out amazing, but when it gets into it and finds its stride you will be fixated on the screen and not want to take your eye off it and it made me kind of annoyed that there was only about 15 of us in the screening I saw. There should be more people seeing this film, it’s the type of film we don’t tend to get in Cinemas anymore. A truly life affirming film that never talks down to its audience and never feels the need to cheapen the material to get in the big crowd. It’s just a lovely story of two friends who make each other feel better just by being together and the deep connection that they share. In a sense it’s kind of what Studio Ghibli does the “One Unforgettable Summer” film; however, don’t take that to mean you can substitute it with any of those other films. This one stands head and shoulders above them, because unlike many of those films you really get a sense that this summer has changed Anna for the better and this really will be unforgettable.

The plot is great, I don’t care how faithful an adaptation it is, it’s a great movie. When this film comes out on DVD I may give the Dom a few dosh on his patreon account, just so he will do an episode on it, but as I said earlier, Dr Buchan is going to give her thoughts on the DVD and I will do a post of Facebook when she does so you can see what she thinks. It’s another great plot from Studio Ghibli, and once again it’s down to the loving craft that these animators give and they never forget that you can have great imagery and animation, but it means nothing if your story sucks, and believe me, this story will pull at your heart strings, but will make you feel happy at the end and trust me, that’s the kind of movie I love to watch.

As for the cast, for the purpose of this review, my screening was in the English dub. The film is available in its original Japanese with subtitles and in the English language version that has been licensed by Studio Canal, but I believe it was a combination between Disney and Gkids that licensed it in America. I haven’t seen the film in its original Japanese so I can’t comment on that, however, I am well aware if you have read this review, which is a week after its release, or if you plan to see it after this review, you will more likely have seen it in its original Japanese as many cinemas were only offering the subtitle version of the film. I think it’s unfair for cinemas to insist on showing the film in Japanese with subtitles, I think there are good English dubs out there for anime and Studio Ghibli films really are some of the best and have real love and care put into them and the option should be there for either way. I personally prefer to watch dubbed anime because of my complications with Dyslexia, I don’t find it impossible to watch films in that format, however, if a dub is available I like it because I feel I can just sit back and enjoy the movie and don’t have to worry too much. This is another fantastic dub. The stand out performances, as you would expect are Hailee Steinfeld, who is on a career high, and Kiernan Shipka who gives another fantastic performance and I didn’t even realise it was her. Seriously I have watched all 4 seasons of Legend of Korra, she played Jinora in that series who is one of my favourite characters and I was accustomed to her voice, but I seriously didn’t realise it was her, both girls really nailed the roles and they have fantastic on screen chemistry, both of them should be really proud of themselves. Incidentally Ava Acres also gave an excellent performance and is seriously good in this role. Most Ghibli dubs are very good at taking actors who are very well known and giving them great direction so you don’t even realise it’s them, in fact you often have to have an IMDB page open when you are watching a Ghibli film in the dub, however, there is usually one cast member who you instantly recognise, in this case it’s John C Reilly, but he is playing a minor role, and he’s not on screen too often and even then he is not that distracting. He does seem the weirdest casting though as his voice doesn’t quite match up to his characters design. Grey Griffin is a lot more on screen in this film than Reilly anyway and does an excellent performance as well. A couple of the cameos though feel a bit off, especially Kathy Bates who for such a talented actress, really should have been put to better use and despite the fact that she wasn’t on screen too much, I really did enjoy Vanessa Williams, who, again is really unrecognisable here. As usual the dub cast is fantastic in this film and they all do brilliant jobs, but the stand out performances are Hailee Steinfeld and Kiernan Shipka, if those performances weren’t outstanding, I would be recommending you see the film in the Japanese version, despite not having seen that, however, having said that, if your area is offering the dub, it is worth it. I would also suggest that if you have young children who want to see this movie, you would probably be better off with the dubbed version, however, I discovered when I went to see The Boy and The Beast, young children can keep up with subtitles a lot better than many critics and myself give them credit for. I am man enough to admit when I am wrong on something.

As for the animation? It’s Studio Ghibli, what do you think? Unlike The Tale of The Princess Kaguya, which I previously reviewed where the animation style was radically different, this has gone back to a much more traditional Studio Ghibli style of animation. It’s still hand drawn, of course not totally hand drawn because computers do still play a part in hand drawn films now, but the beauty still stands out. It may not look a polished as some of the Miyazaki films like, The Wind Rises or Howl’s Moving Castle, but you still feel the real love with the imagery and they find incredible ways to tell the story for the visuals alone which so many animated films now forget to do. It kind of looks like one of those more classic Ghibli films at time, however, there is still some real modern charm to it and many of the scenes of the village look like they were lovingly sketched or painted, which fits in the the themes of Anna being a sketch artist and one of the women she meets being a painter.

If there is another great thing to talk about with this film, it’s the character designs. The character designs are just brilliant, especially Marnie’s design which seems to have the most effort put into it, Anna has a good design as well, though, the only thing I have discussed with Dr Buchan after showing her the trailer and the posters for this film, she said that she didn’t believe Anna was described as being as tom boyish in the novel as she appears in the film, although she admits she may have been wrong on that which would mean this would be the only thing I can confirm might have been changed in translation.

Another great part of this film is the film’s music score. They may not have been written by regular Studio Ghibli composer Joe Hisaishi, but the score written by Takatsugu Muramatsu is still fantastic and for the love of god, the theme song, Fine On The Outside by Priscilla Ahn, should have been nominated for best original song at the Oscars, I know it was never going to beat Writings on the Wall by Sam Smith, but for goodness sake it deserved a nomination way more than Earned It by The Weekend from Fifty Shades of Grey.

I know it was obvious, but I loved When Marnie Was There. I loved it so much, this film was so fantastically written, so fantastically animated and it was a joy to experience. I loved the characters, the story line was great and engaging the mood is set perfectly. The characters are designed brilliantly, it’s just an all round excellent film and it doesn’t appear that too much has been lost in translation between Britain and Japan.

If this is to be the final film from Studio Ghibli, they are going out on a high because this film was excellent and really should have won the Oscar for Best Animated Film. I liked Inside Out but for goodness sake, this film was way better. This is just a lovely movie, I cannot recommend it enough if it is playing in your area and it doesn’t matter which format you see it in because the dub cast do an excellent job with their performances and I am certain the Japanese cast do an excellent job too from what I have heard. It’s up there with the best Studio Ghibli movies, like Spirited Away, Howl’s Moving Castle, The Wind Rises and many others. It really deserves to be in with them.

When I left the cinema I was both happy and sad because I knew this was the last time I got to see a new Studio Ghibli film in the cinema and while I am glad to have seen a great movie, I am sad to see this studio go because I know there will probably never be a collective group of creators like them in my lifetime. It was just amazing and it’s fighting out for my Best Film for 2016 with Captain America Civil War and The Witch.

Well now it’s time for me to talk about the other films I have seen this week.

I did see Ninja Turtles 2, but that’s my review for next week so I will discuss that then. Other than that I saw Psychic School Wars, Me Before You and The Nice Guys.

Psychic School Wars is another anime movie that has been released by Anime Limited and I have rather mixed feelings on it. While it does tell an interesting story, it never quite fleshes it out fully and I felt like it was one of those films that had enough going on in it, it was engaging but not enough to completely fall in love with it. It was a pretty good movie and the gorgeous animation alone is worth the price of admission, give this one a try if you like anime.

Me Before You is another film that leaves me with mixed feelings. While it is a cheesy romance story that I am not the target audience for, I at least gave it a good go and I thought it was doing an alright job up until it bought in the euthanasia sub plot that felt incredibly out of place and whilst admirable to try and put in the ‘right to die message’ it didn’t feel like it was handled well and I have to agree with Film Brain’s review of it, like 7 Pounds it does send out an alarming message by the end of the film, which, despite the fact that I believe people should have the right to die when they choose, I wasn’t sure that this film quite got it right.

The Nice Guys, well this is a film I really can recommend. It may lose itself in the 3rd act, but this was a really fun, funny movie and it’s made even better by Ryan Gosling, who I am convinced at to this point can do no wrong, and Russel Crowe who also gives a fantastic performance and their chemistry is fantastic. The film oozes in the 70s and Shane Black who writes and directs the film does an excellent job. It’s everything you would expect of a comedy written by the writer of Lethal Weapon and the director of Iron Man 3.

So, those were my thoughts on When Marnie Was There and the three other films mentioned above.
“What were your thoughts, did you agree with me?”
If so, or if not, please leave a comment in the comments section. I welcome all opinions. If you have read the book and have any thoughts on the translation to the screen, please let me know if it is good or bad, don’t just wait for Dr Buchan’s comments. Remember, if you want, you can submit your own reviews by visiting our ‘How to Submit Section’, that would be awesome if you could. We have had some brilliant content in the last few weeks, keep it going, please.

Next week on 24 June for my thoughts on the latest Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movie, “Out of the Shadows”. I had to review this one, the first one was one of my first reviews for the site and because I am a Turtle fan, I am destined to watch anything Turtles till the day I die!!

Thanks for reading my review, I hope you enjoyed reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it and as much as I enjoyed watching this film and I have got two points at the end of this:

  • Since I am changing my Oscar pick from Inside Out to When Marnie was there I am now down from 9 awards to 8, go back and read my oscar picks for more details on that one.
  • Don’t go Studio Ghibli, please, we love you.

Calvin – Nerd Consultant

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One comment on “When Marnie Was There – Review
  1. Linda Buchan says:

    Outstanding beautiful and indeed life affirming
    I am not going to compare it to the book as that would be wrong
    Yes there are changes from the book but they are all in the spirit of the book
    A truly remarkable film
    Have a box of tissues handy

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