When Marnie  was here : A Film Review

When Marnie was here is based on the book by the English author Joan G. Robinson.

From the Studio Ghibli. Co-Founding Directors Hayao Miyazaki and Isao Takahata.

ACTORS. Sara Takatsuki, Kasumi Arimura, Hana Sugisaki, Hitomi Kuroki, Ryoko Moriyama (voices)DIRECTOR. Hiromasa Yonebayashi. GENRE. Animation. RATING. U. DURATION  1hr 43mins.   SUBTITLED. ORIGIN. JAPAN. 2014. At QFT they will show the English dubbed version on Saturday 11 and Sunday 12 June 2016 matinees.  Remainder are the original Japanese voiced and subtitled version.

Era of Japanese Animation closing.

This apparently; things are never certain, is the final film to be made under the Studio Ghibli filmhouse studio.  As this is the third (of three) signing off pieces following on from two years ago, Hayao Miyazaki, the Japanese chief, announcing retirement after the release of The Wind Rises then six months later, his co-founder, Isao Takahata, doing the same in releasing The Tale of the Princess Kaguya.  The young pretender Hiromasa Yonebayashi (42) unabashed follows up with the closer. When Marnie was here apparently or looks like a consensus on his own choosing given the listing of children’s books cited as favourites, The Borrowers, Heidi and The a Secret Garden which entail the tropes associated with the studio, ghosts, memory and growing up this fits the stable and closing the door – on an empty flown offspring?

The story of When Marnie was here (a bare introduction.)

This is a traditional fairytale taken into a modernist setting.  Out of the high speed train setting of the large City, Sapporo, is where we begin.  Anna, a 12 year old, is a lone child fostered by her ‘Aunt’ and dutiful stand in mother, Yoriko, who is herself alone and with Anna having an ailment, being as asthmatic is soon sent to another ‘Aunt’ and ‘Uncle’ carer whose own children have grown and they are in a comfortable peasant late middle age. So it is to a place of rural beauty on a beautiful magical impressive shoreline Anna is to find herself growing up.

New places.

Anna (voiced by Sara Takatsuki, and by Hailee Steinfeld in the upcoming English-language version), comes to this new place full of self-concious wonder and uncertainty of her true self with her lonely upbringing so far.  Because it is thought a summer here will clear her head and she will open up to her life ahead she is struck with all the wonderment she immediately encounters.  From getting off the train and off the City connected to the rural coastal offshoot which most all have lost sight of she is taken by her new ‘Aunt’ and ‘Uncle’ the Owia family in a bone shaker of a tiny pick-up red van off the highway and along the beaten track to what some would have as an idyll.  A lovely hillside quaint ramshackled top and bottom balconied homely timber dwelling.  

Uncle is a tall thin man given to tinkering about and crafting interesting things; junk probably to his ebullient warm tubby contented wife whose ease and warmth never once falters.  It is indeed an idyll except the absence of companions of Anna’s age.  The local village kids have ‘reputations’ and she has no dealings with them due to it being summer and her own place providing a lone child with her own imagined adventures.  This is reinforced with her immersion in her gift of drawing.  While she mistrusts her own ability she is an assured sketchers and is intently drawn, excuse that .., to sketching this new place.  In Japanese – pay attention to this subtitled version, the word for Sketching is Sketchin’. So I believe!

This new place has tales to tell and I won’t tell you them.  The Marnie of the story is like another little girl of similar age who is to become her companion through this story.  It is the central plank of the narrative.  Beautifully, sublimely rendered animation just pours out with a gentle undercurrent of orchestrated strings and bows.  The scenic value of a marshy inlet provides a wonderful ghostlike setting for where the story wafts and weaves. The elegance of screen painterly framing and ease through the animation is simply awesome.  Very accomplished and rewarding subtlety is everywhere throughout.

New voices.

The Marnie character is voiced by Kasumi Arimura (and by Kiernan Shipka, Mad Men’s Sally Draper – redub).  Both shall meet but how and where and what will the relationship bring? How different are they? How alike?  In Japan according to a local philosopher; yes there’s more than me, it is a familiar idea to internalize your questions by asking Why, five times after each bring an answer it apparently discovers a core – well Mr Toyota himself used it, Sakichi Toyoda and when was the last time anyone of his cars broke down. Opps! there goes another maxim.  A recall? See snags need overcome.  Anna needs to find out what makes her work.  What her feeling mean and why she must attend to her own needs and see the outside while having a contented core, just like ‘Aunt’ Owia who never fails to be happy in sharing everything from giant toms, to juicy magnificent watermelons as she just teases these fruits of the earth – clue there they are both fruits and therefore you now know what toms are kids. This is a U friendly blog.  

Abundant nature.

The abundance of the surrounding nature from the clear star filled sky’s, with a crescent moon reflecting on the water, the tidal course bringing not the marsh little islands, paddies their called here, is ever present timeless territory for fairytale like stories.  This is in the tradition of Grimms fairy tales and no less scary making me once or twice wondering how unsettling this film might be to children of tender years.  12 up may like its familiar problems and be able to dismiss as folklore, or fable some of the moralising – no one gets hurt in essence but emotions  become very heightened and there will be adults in tears at times and it is a testament to the strength and propulsion of the animation of the dreamlike or real narrative drive.  What is behind this journey? We engage with Anna and Marnie as their story unfolds apace.  Genuinely moving it is a bracingly well told story or yarn.  I put beneath a link to another story only yesterday, put on another blog by me concerning a Japanese fable translated by an English author concerning The Stone-Cutter.  It followed on from a favourite painting of mine of a stonecutter illustrating a poem of – actually a boy knapping flints on Boxhill, often used to adorn cottages they split giving a lovely flat white plane – I used them once when the opportunity arose at Walton-on-the-Hill. See adailypoemblog.wordpress.com Stone shapes, for incidentals!

This film has a calling for teenagers everywhere as they reach those teenage years – Anna is 12 – soon therefore to be one and it shares the pangs and pains of formulating around your given genes your own shaped identity.  Opening up and becoming a confident human being and being able to distinguish between falsehood and meaningful experiences and of learning to trust with compassion.  These arts and gifts are partially found in the expression Anna is able to give her sketching.  She also meets along the way another more mature lady artist who shares her skills and encourages her as well as providing more grown up insights on life.  They don’t dwell on sentiment either of them but as artists define the basic essence and how to separate it from the unnecessary.

Conclusion ####4

Beware of imitations, including rediscovered remakes of the animalistic variety.  Splendid and accomplished though they are the voices and visual realism brought through giganticism gifted animation and – familiar stories is giving children and grown up expected treats.  What is on the box is not the same as the contents, you get slightly under nourishing fare.  Favourites devoured and some left unconsumed, is not the diet children deserve with films that have lately come down to highly fashioned within an inch of their hides.  Pictorially or mentally they are not challenging enough whereas this form is.  It is a viscerally engaging skilfully crafted story keeping its tension throughout and showing another world almost believable but not quite scary enough to be unsettling for the more attuned youngsters, meaning perhaps ten up.  Not Seven up it is too fizzy!  

This animation os a class above and is an art form best seen in the widescreen environment of a Cinema or even in a crowded group of children in their own little Cinema Club.  Preceded by The equally though longer and more directionally culturally ‘Japanese’ – The Princess of Kaguya, it has a loud why would any amity want to go to those extremes? Unusual in fabric beautifully presented but not giving the ‘lifelesson’ its origins intended. It was named by a male Spanish acquaintance as one of his favourites of all time which is a marker of how effective this style within the genre is and in this relative newcomers hands,  Hiromasa Yonebayashi’s hands, it is as stories with a twist and resonance for eras from the ancient through the Swedish, Scandinavian, Transylvanian, scope of fables and ghostly Gothic tales revivalism have been and served here in this manner is always welcome.  It is superbly done for and will appeal to a wide audience.  Some have said it is slightly the weaker of the trio closing Studio Ghibli, with it being a long winded ending, it is not quite that or even close to being the weakest in a triptych.  It has its own palatte and story and is brilliantly realised. The measure is not it being part of a triptych but as and of its self within a genre which houses manybsplendourscto take forward.  There is a series also to be appreciated.  See below.  Well worth seeing and several times over perhaps as a classic tale for children each generation maybe forming their own take on it.  Tested through the ages as all good yarns are.  This is like a story told intimately round a fireside except here it’s it magnificent technicolour widescreen beauty.

John Graham

7 June 2016


Thank you to Studio Ghibli for the opportunity to provide such a visually interesting blog!  It’s great to look at I think.

On at QFT Belfast from Friday 10 June through to and including 16 June 2016

Matinees on Saturday 11 and Sunday 12 June will be the English dubbed version.

Special note regarding more screenings of Japanese Animation from the same Studios.

Also note a series entitled Studio Ghibli Forever starts on (started 5 June) Friday 10 with this film (normal full price/member/other concess.) subtitled unless as noted, others £4.00 on Sunday 19, Princess Mononoke, Sunday 26, Spirited away, Saturday 2, Howl’s Moving Castle, Saturday 16, Ponyo (dubbed), The Wind Rises, Saturday 23, The Tale of Princess Kayguya.  See queensfilmtheatre.com for specific times of all screenings.

Also on web is studioghibliforever.com 
The Stonecutter
Once upon a time there lived a stonecutter, who went every day to a great rock in the side of a big mountain and cut out slabs for gravestones or for houses. He understood very well the kinds of stones wanted for the different purposes, and as he was a careful workman he had plenty of customers. For a long time he was quite happy and contented, and asked for nothing better than what he had.

Now in the mountain dwelt a spirit which now and then appeared to men, and helped them in many ways to become rich and prosperous. The stonecutter, however, had never seen this spirit, and only shook his head, with an unbelieving air, when anyone spoke of it. But a time was coming when he learned to change his opinion.

One day the stonecutter carried a gravestone to the house of a rich man, and saw there all sorts of beautiful things, of which he had never even dreamed. Suddenly his daily work seemed to grow harder and heavier, and he said to himself: “Oh, if only I were a rich man, and could sleep in a bed with silken curtains and golden tassels, how happy I should be!”

And a voice answered him: “Your wish is heard; a rich man you shall be!”

At the sound of the voice the stonecutter looked around, but could see nobody. He thought it was all his fancy, and picked up his tools and went home, for he did not feel inclined to do any more work that day. But when he reached the little house where he lived, he stood still with amazement, for instead of his wooden hut was a stately palace filled with splendid furniture, and most splendid of all was the bed, in every respect like the one he had envied. He was nearly beside himself with joy, and in his new life the old one was soon forgotten.

For the continuation see the link above ….

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