It should go without saying that there’s a lot riding on When Marnie Was There. It’s not only the latest film to come out of animation powerhouse Studio Ghibli, it’s possibly the last film to come out of Studio Ghibli. So in addition to the usual high expectations of technical perfection that comes with Ghibli films, it has the unexpected burden of ending what might be a legacy of some of the greatest animated movies of all time. No pressure.
So obviously as a massive Studio Ghibli fan not only were my own expectations were high, but also my apprehensions. While I’ve enjoyed them all, the most recent Ghibli films don’t have the same animated awe that you find when watching Spirited Away or Princess Mononoke. But I kept in mind as I sat in my cinema seat waiting for the film to start that not every Ghibli movie can be a masterpiece. With that said, as the end credits rolled over beautifully painted backdrops followed by the fade to black, I realized something. If Marnie is the last film that Studio Ghibli creates, it is a great film to end decades of wonder. That isn’t to say the film is perfect. But for the first time in years, Studio Ghibli has made film that is easily up there with the studio’s greatest.
The View is Beautiful
One of the greatest selling points of movies made by Studio Ghibli is the sheer beauty that the movies contain. Every film (even the not-so critically acclaimed) is animated with detail that is unseen in most animation. Even as computer animation grows more and more prominent in Japanese animation, Studio Ghibli still manages to maintain the standard we’ve come to expect. With that said, When Marnie Was There is on another level. The quality of the animation and stunning vistas that set stage are some of the finest that Studio Ghibli have ever created. It paints a picture of the Japanese countryside in summer with stunning detail. In many ways the visuals alone are worth the price of admission. Thankfully, it isn’t just eye candy, there’s a story with substance.
My Only Friend
Traditionally the protagonists of Ghibli films have been young people who have been brave in the face of adversity or driven to accomplish their goals. Anna of When Marnie Was There is certainly not a typical Ghibli protagonist. A troubled child who suffers from asthma attacks, Anna’s back story is refreshing as it’s not all sunshines and rainbows. There’s death, loss, heartbreak, and even betrayal. I’m not going to delve too much as discovering what’s happened to her is a core part of the story. Anna is sent to the country from Sapporo in order for the country air to help treat her asthma, a wonderfully old-fashioned idea. Introverted and anti-social, Anna struggles to adjust to her new surroundings, but eventually meets the mysterious Marnie and begins a friendship that will completely change her life.
While the story has moments where the writing isn’t very strong (perhaps due to issues in translation), the melancholy and somber tone is something that I wish more animation would tackle. The film approaches subjects that aren’t normally dealt with in most animated films, and therefore it’s a pleasant change of pace from your standard anime fare.
While the studio hasn’t been shutdown, the hiatus after the retirement of Hayao Miyazaki doesn’t give a lot of hope to Ghibli fans. With that said, if this is the last film we get from Ghibli it’s one that in my opinion is one for the history books. It’s somber and stunning, a combination that can only be rivalled by Grave of the Fireflies, which probably still holds the record for the saddest animated feature I’ve ever seen. However, When Marnie Was There ends on a high note that in some ways could relate to the fate of Studio Ghibli. We hope that Anna is better in the same way we hope that Studio Ghibli will still make films. Nothing is certain at the moment, but there’s enough hope that maybe, just maybe, this isn’t a goodbye but a new beginning.