When Marnie Was There was originally released in Japan back in July 2014, but the UK did not get its release until June 2016. The release has proven the film is in short supply, but fortunately for me, my local cinema has thrown in the random showing. The film has been critically acclaimed as another masterpiece in the anime genre by director Hiromasa Yonebayashi. This is his second film as a director, and the future looks bright for the anime enthusiast. If you look back at his career, his experience in animation is vast, playing key animator in a variety of films involving 2001’s Spirited Away.
In terms of the story, you are following an adolescent girl named Anna who is very unbalanced, upset and lost in her life. She does not understand her negative thoughts and feels closed in. Her worrying behaviour prompts her to be sent to the countryside to live with her relatives where her mental state does not appear to alter until she becomes obsessed with an abandoned mansion and infatuated with a girl who lives there – a girl who may or may not be real.
The premise of the story pulls you in because you are always wondering why Anna acts uncannily. Her character is very peculiar and at times her dialogue is brief and closed, discouraging other characters from responding. She provides this sense of emptiness where you subscribe to the fact that she does not really know herself. As an audience member you are urging for her to be happy, urging for her to be socially comfortable, but at the same time, you understand it is not manageable for her to feel that way consistently. The film manages to build this strong empathy towards her, and for some audience members you may feel sympathy and be able to relate to her. I am not usually interested in animation that could easily be a live-action film, but portraying the issues of a misguided young girl in the form of anime behaves well on-screen. This girl’s journey provides a heartwarming and wonderfully crafted story that tackles the misunderstood issues of a young girl in the medium of beauteous colours and animation.
In essence (outside the curiosity regarding the girl that Anna meets) the narrative tackles child abandonment and how that young person grows up and reacts to human connection. The film touches upon this subject lightly enough to not disarm the friendly and beautiful nature of the film. You are in awe when she is exploring new places, you smile when she is gleeful and you feel upset when things do not go her way. Anna’s adventures are fun to watch and you feel desperate to return to when you were younger; care-free and exploring areas that you have not yet discovered. Surrounding all the emotions you are eager for Anna to tackle the core of her mental issues which is her confusing childhood. Why is she so obsessed with the abandoned mansion and why is she so infatuated with a random girl who appears to have residency there? The film in a slow-burning way pieces all the jigsaws together, and as you start to get the full picture you are emotionally invested into Anna and you look forward to her achieving her most salient moment.
In regards to the way the animation is put together; the colours in this film are exquisite. It is difficult at times to follow the storyline because you are too busy admiring the many different elements of the animation. It is just beautiful to watch and it never gets boring witnessing the different colours blend together in different environments and scenery. There are times when Anna is gaping at the abandoned mansion which she is separated from by water, and this shot is done at different times of the day throughout the film but you feel you are admiring the landscape with her. It is like you are scanning a piece of art, not an animation – that is the best way of describing it.
My only criticism of the film is that it could have been slightly cut – it did drag a bit near the end, but fortunately, it does not irritate you too much. I feel the music could have been more prominent because in the trailers you can clearly hear the notes and it adds to the feeling and ambience. The music kicks in strongly near the end and my musical senses lit up, but I felt it was a bit too late – I wanted to be inspired by the soundtrack earlier and not just in the finale.
I did watch the dubbed version of this anime and following on from this review I may be tempted to watch the non-dubbed version because I have heard it is better watching it with subtitles. I have to admit I was put off at times with the accents because it is clear that the characters sound out of place with an American accent.
If your cinema happens to be showing this please go pay for a visit. This is a beautifully crafted and colourful film that tackles the misunderstood issues of child abandonment.
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Daniel Hart is the Co-Founder of Ready Steady Cut and has operated as Editor-in-Chief since 2017.