Magical realism and artistry in “When Marnie Was There”


“When Marnie Was There” is about a 12-year old girl who goes off the rails.

aamarnieAny similarities to “Inside Out,” about the emotional turbulence of an 11-year old girl, stop there (though that both open Friday is worthy of note).

“Marnie” from the Japanese Studio Ghibli, home of acclaimed animator Hayao Miyazakil was directed by Hiromasa Yonebayashi a key animator on Miyazaki masterpieces like “Howl’s Moving Castle,” “Spirited Away” and “The Wind Rises,” said to be Miyazaki’s final film.

His retirement means “Marnie” may be Ghibli’s final film as well.

“Marnie” is a typical tangle of magical realism and photorealism, in which fantasy and psychodrama play out in brilliant watercolor brushstrokes.

The story is broad, part “The Shining” and part “Laurie,” by Dickie Lee (“You weren’t with my daughter / … she died a year ago today”) – but the artistry is fine.

The story – based on Joan G. Robinson’s 1967 young adult novel – involves a sullen and skittish young orphan with asthma spending the summer in a small seaside village with relatives.

There she is drawn to a large cottage on the water and befriends the golden haired girl – Marnie – who lives in it. in time – a little to long a time – we discover how their lives are intertwined.

Visual details of village life and characters, cinematic camera techniques, a pastoral naturalism – moon on the water, ducks in a puddle, moths circling a porch-light – and Priscilla Ahn’s haunting closing theme “Fine On the Outside,” all help make “Marnie” enchanting.

*** Three Stars 

Voices by Sara Takatsuki, Kasumi Arimura, Nanako Matushima. Produced by Yoshiaki Nishimura. Written by Keiko Niwa, Masashi Ando, Hiromasa Yonebayashyi, Directed by Hiromasa Yonebayashi, Rated PG, thematic elements, smoking. Approximate running time: 103. Shown in both Japanese with English subtitles, and dubbed in English.

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  • Debbie Young

    Duane, thanks for suggesting that I subscribe to your blog. I’m enjoying it very much. I have always especially enjoyed your insightful and literate movie reviews.
    Debbie Young

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