12-year-old Anna Sasaki is sent to live with relatives for the summer in the hopes that the fresh country air will improve her health problems. However, she finds more than she bargained for as she meets a strange young girl named Marnie who lives in the house across the salt marsh. What follows is a story of friendship, family and adventure.
In true Studio Ghibli fashion, ‘When Marnie Was There’ is a tale which presents the most simplistic themes but delivers them in the most professional manner of storytelling possible. This leaves the viewer emotionally involved with the characters and their lives from the start to the very end of the 103 minute run time.
As the latest and quite possibly the last venture from Studio Ghibli this feature obviously brings with it a high level of expectation. The animation itself as to be expected is flawlessly presented and the character designs are all well suited to the cast of characters. However, the originality of the story is what makes Marnie truly shine. It would seem that credit is due to Joan G. Robinson, the author of the novel on which this movie is based as the storyline is truly imaginative. On the other hand, I am sure that the immersion provided by Ghibli, as well the incredible direction by Hiromasa Yonebayashi (The Secret World Of Arriety), is what does the story justice when giving life to these characters.
When I started watching this film it had me intially thinking that this was an average movie set-up. Girl is depressed. Meets new friend. All is well. However, I should have known not to judge a book by it’s apparently conventional cover. Marnie actually provides more mystery and wonder than I had first thought. Although it may not contain the fantasically creative characters usually found in a Ghibli film, for example, No Face (Sprited Away) or Totoro (My Neighbour Totoro), it still somehow manages to keep you second guessing reality and wondering what might happen next. I also found that, by using realistic characters, the tale was very easy to relate to in parts. This ultimately builds into one of the most heartwarming features that I think the studio has produced to date. In addition, the closing song ”Fine on the Outside”, written and performed by Priscilla Ahn, perfectly encapsulates the tone of this movie.
I am, however, well aware that Marnie is by no means to everyones taste. It can be paced fairly slowly at times and with two female protagonists this may be a slightly more female friendly film to say the least. This isn’t to say that Marnie cannot be enjoyed by any age group or gender. As a man in his early twenties I still thoroughly loved this film. Ghibli, for me, is a studio that can, much like Disney, produce films that everyone can enjoy. If you are still unsure I would advise you to just dive in. The true pay off for Marnie honestly comes with time. If you allow yourself to care for these characters perhaps you can, like myself, find something to relate to within this movie. That in itself is a pretty compendable achievement for a piece of animation.
Overall I would say that, as a possible final outing for the studio, Marnie may not produce all the ”bells and whistles” you may find in previous features. However, all the heart of Ghibli still remains which in my opinion makes this a must see, even if it is just to pay homage to the studio that has brought us all such joy through the years.
Rating : 4.0/5.0 Excellent
When Marnie Was There 
Directed by Hiromasa Yonebayashi
Written by Keiko Niwa, Masashi Andō, Hiromasa Yonebayashi
Based on the novel by Joan G. Robinson