Sunday, June 07, 2015

When Marnie Was There

I feel as if we have been bidding Studio Ghibli farewell for a long time - that between The Wind Rises, The Tale of the Princess Kaguya, documentary The Kingdom of Dreams and Madness, and now When Marnie Was There, we've been lamenting this end of an era on and off for several years straight. They absolutely deserve a long victory lap, and I certainly don't want them to just go away, but each time one of these is released, I feel lousy that it's ending.

And I'm really not sure how I feel about the end finally coming not with one from Hayao Miyazaki or Isao Takahata, but very talented newcomer Hiromasa Yonebayashi. It's Yonebayashi's second film as director, after The Secret World of Arrietty, and is much stronger than that fine debut effort. He's not the only talented young filmmaker who has been working at Ghibli, but having that company in limbo makes one wonder what (and where) his next project will be. Will Madhouse or Toei or some other company hire him, will he work on developing his next feature in the hope that Ghibli will be more than a conent management company by the time he means to start animating?

Of course, it could be very interesting to see what becomes of Hiromasa Yonebayashi, Goro Miyazaki, and others working there if they do wind up elsewhere. Both of Yonebayashi's movies are in Ghibli's house style, and while the influence of that style reaches out beyond the studio itself (see, for example, A Letter to Momo), I'm very curious whether the people who made their mark at Ghibli will see working elsewhere as a chance to stretch in new directions or if they will carry what works with them.

At any rate, this potentially final final film is a good one. Niece-worthy, although I'm not exactly how much they'd like it. It's pretty easy to recommend the ones that are fun and full of fantastic images to them, but When Marnie Was There is kind of heavy at times. The almost-nine-year-old might be up for it, though I don't know how much she would go for smart ghost stories, but the younger ones might need a couple years before they appreciate something that is not quite so obviously exciting or friendly as the Disney material they love.

Omoide no Mânî (When Marnie Was There)

* * * * (out of four)
Seen 6 June 2015 in Landmark Kendall Square #2 (first-run, DCP with Japanese soundtrack and English subtitles)

Toward the end of When Marnie Was Here, I found myself feeling a delightfully paradoxical appreciation for how it was put together: It somehow feels simultaneously surprising and inevitable, with the symbolic and the literal overlapping in ways that should not have been deflating but instead strengthened the story. Not bad for a movie about 12-year-olds and in large part made for that age group, though it never feels the need to shout to get their attention.

The first of these girls we meet is Anna Sasaki, who looks at some of her classmates and says that there are people inside a circle and outside, with her among the latter. Soon after that, she has a serious asthma attack, prompting her guardian Yoriko to send her away from Sapporo to spend the summer with Yoriko's aunt and uncle, Setsu & Kiyomasa Oiwa, for clear air in the country. While sketching, Anna is transfixed by a dilapidated mansion across the marsh, once the vacation home of a group of foreigners although it has changed hands several times since then. Sometimes she sees lights in the windows, and one night at high tide she finds a rowboat docked nearby. She needs a bit of help when she reaches the mansion, and that's when she meets Marnie, a blonde girl about her age, who says they must be each other's secret.

That's the start of a gothic story, an odd choice when the main character is an antisocial pre-teen girl. It becomes fascinatingly appropriate, though - Anna, in her youthful way, is as withdrawn and cold as the women typically seduced by ghosts in the grown-up version of these stories; in fact, she's often more direct about her self-loathing than those protagonists. The offer of friendship is as much a temptation for a girl that age as romance would be for one five or ten years older, and in some ways it is even more believable that Anna would keep investing in it, even though she's clearly a smart enough kid to know that she is in the midst of something outside the ordinary.

Full review on EFC.

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