When Marnie Was There (4 stars)

When Marnie Was There

Charming, Oscar-nominated animation from the ever-reliable Studio Ghibli

Animation powerhouse Studio Ghibli continues to prove that there is life beyond Miyazaki. Their first Japanese / European co-production The Red Turtle was a highlight of this year’s Cannes Film Festival. The Oscar-nominated When Marnie Was There marks a further expansion of the studio’s storytelling range, as director Hiromasa Yonebayashi applies the trademark beauty of Ghibli’s meticulously hand-painted craftsmanship to an adaptation of Joan G Robinson’s very British tale of an intense female friendship and the healing of a fractured family.

The novel may have been relocated from Norfolk to the island of Hokkaido, but the story still retains the wholesome, old-fashioned feel of The Railway Children or The Amazing Mr Blunden. 12-year-old orphan Anna (voiced by Sara Takatsuki in the Japanese original, Hailee Steinfeld in the English language version) is a perennial outsider who suffers panic attacks and finds it hard to make friends. Her foster parents send Anna to her aunt and uncle in the country for the summer. They hope the fresh air might improve her asthma, and the break might restore the spirits of a girl who has become sullen and withdrawn.

The craft of Ghibli is seen in the lush vision of the fields and rivers of Hokkaido and the use of sound that invites the viewer to catch every cricket chirp, breath of wind and flap of a bird’s wing. The result is undeniably sentimental but it builds into an engaging, almost Hitchcockian tale that confidently handles a multi-layered narrative and some complex emotional issues. In Hokkaido, Anna is strangely drawn to a supposedly abandoned house situated on a river where she finds a new friend. The blonde-haired Marnie may be imaginary or may be a ghost, but she quickly becomes the most important person in Anna’s life and the key to fitting together the missing pieces of Anna’s troubled family history. It’s a delicately executed, gently beguiling film.

Selected release from Fri 10 Jun.

When Marnie Was There

  • 4 stars
  • 2014
  • Japan
  • 1h 43min
  • U
  • Directed by: Hiromasa Yonebayashi
  • Cast: Sara Takatsuki, Kasumi Arimura, Nanako Matsushima
  • UK release: 15 October 2015

When asthmatic 12 year old Anna suffers panic attacks and finds it hard to make friends, her parents send her to her aunt and uncle in the country for the summer, where she finds a new friend in (possibly imagianary) Marnie. Proof that Studio Ghibli has life beyond Miyazaki; a beguiling, delicately executed, almost…