Released in 2014, When Marnie Was There was Studio Ghibli’s final film – until 2020’s How Do You Live? was announced by Hayao Miyazaki, a man who comes out of retirement almost as often as Steven Soderbergh or Rocky Balboa.
Hiromasa Yonebayashi’s picture follows Anna, a depressed girl sent to live at the seaside where she meets Marnie, who may or may not exist. Based on Joan G. Robinson’s 1967 novel, Marnie transplants the drama from England to Japan, allowing Yonebayashi to paint with Ghibli’s pastoral palette – albeit with a maudlin undercurrent that seems too downbeat for children. Anna is hard to relate to, particularly compared with the depressed young protagonist of Kiki’s Delivery Service, the Miyazaki film with a charm and lightness of touch missing from When Marnie Was There.
Needless to say, Ghibli films are never less than interesting and beautiful, and Marnie feels rich in the sad, searching way it tackles weighty themes. The organic, spectral animation meets the studio’s high standard, with deep care and love drawn into every frame. However this attention to detail doesn’t extend to the pacing, where much of the movie appears slow and samey, before ending on something of an exposition dump. Where 1989’s Kiki married magic and melancholy in a manner perfect for young girls, Marnie is likely to make you mournful – but guaranteed to make you hungry.