I wonder what it takes for an anime film to get decent distribution in the US. I did see “Ponyo” and “The Wind Rises” in the theaters, but how many others have slid below the radar? I’m not even seeing ads taken out in the papers or things getting mentioned, so I have to wait for alternate distribution to find out about them at all and then get a chance to see the latest film releases. “When Marnie was There” (or “Marnie of the Memories”) came out last July and could, potentially, be the last film from Studio Ghibli, as they are ‘on hiatus’, but with the retirement of Miyazaki, their future is vague.
On to the film. I am uncertain when the film takes place, but it could be the late 60s or early 70s. Anna Sasaki (left) is a 12-year-old girl who lives in Sapporo with foster parents, Yoriko and her husband. Anna’s mom and dad died in a car accident and Grandma passed away a couple of years earlier, so there is no one for her. One day at school, she collapses from an asthma attack, so her parents send her to spend the summer with Setsu and Kiyomasa Oiwa, relatives of Yoriko, in Kushino, a rural seaside town, where the air is clear. (OK, we will ignore the fact that asthma isn’t tuberculosis).
Well, Anna has no friends and is uncertain what to do with her time, although she is an artist of some ilk. She sees an abandoned mansion, dilapidated and overgrown, across a seaside marsh and wades across to investigate it. She looks around, wondering why it seems so familiar to her, but gets trapped there by the rising tide. Toichi, a taciturn old fisherman, rescues her with his rowboat. OK, this guy says something when it needs to be said, so he hardly says a word. On the way back across the water, Anna sees the house for a moment in good repair and well-lit. When she returns to the Oiwas, Setsu tells her that the mansion used to be a vacation home for some foreigners, but that it has been empty for a long time. That night, and on other nights, Anna has a dream of seeing a blond girl in the mansion, having her hair brushed by an old woman.
One evening, she sees a rowboat moored on this side of the marsh and takes it over to meet Marnie, the blond girl in the upper window (and to the right). Anna is not certain if this is a dream or reality, but is assured it is all real. They are there when there is a grand party going on, with all kinds of boisterous people. It feels like the 30s, in both manner of dress and the way people conduct themselves. But it appears that only Anna can see the place as it was. She makes several trips over to find it shuttered and in disrepair, so she is confused about things.
Then, new residents move in and begin to renovate and update the house. Anna is befriended by Sakaya, a girl about her age, who has discovered a diary left behind by Marnie and wondered if it was hers, that she was Marnie. Then comes the investigation. Who was Marnie? What are the missing pages in the diary? What happened to her?
In one sense, this movie is kind of like “The Lake House”, in the themes that film explored, but done with someone younger. It is hard to discuss this film without giving away the salient points; you really want to watch this film and let it unfold all before you. Like most Ghibli films, the backgrounds are lush and marvelous and the ocean scenes are appealing. It is a well-told tale, unspooling in a logical, yet deliberate, manner, leading us to an interesting conclusion. The whole movie plays out over the course of a summer, but how it affects Anna will last a lifetime.
On a scale of 1 to 10:
Artwork 8 (Solid Ghibli animation)
Plot 7 (It has been done before)
Pacing 8 (You never feel pushed or pressured)
Effectiveness 8 (Surprisingly moving)
Conclusion 8 (It ends, but the ripples continue)
Fan Service 0 (A similar show would be “Honey and Clover”)
Overall 3 stars