This year’s New York International Children’s Film Festival started off on a pretty high note, especially as an anime fan. The opening night premiere was the latest film from an anime production team that needs no introduction: Studio Ghilbi.
When Marnie Was There (pronounced: MAR-knee) begins with one of the classic setups for children’s stories: moving from the city to the country and discovering a bit of magic in the process. Tween Anna is living in the city but after another bad attack of her asthma her mother decides to send her to the country. Anna makes her way from the bustling streets of Sapporo to a small seaside village to stay with relatives she barely knows.
Once Anna arrives, she falls in love with a beautiful foreign mansion overlooking the marsh. I understood her because I too wanted to paint the house and walk its halls. Anna spends most of her days exploring the area, drawing, and playing with the little girl who lives there, Marnie.
At the same time, reality starts to get blurry.
Anna isn’t good at making friends or conversation. She lets her insecurity build up and says something extreme in the process. She can swing between quiet artist and resentful child in a moment.
Friendship is at the core of this film, that is where Marnie comes in. Marnie puts Anna at ease in an instant. Anna feels a bond with her and Marnie’s easy charm is hard to resist. There are moments I thought Anna might be falling in love with Marnie, but it is even more complex than that. Both of them are only children. Anna needs Marnie, Marnie understands her without Anna having to explain anything. And Anna becomes integral to Marnie’s rich, but isolated, life.
Seeing Anna trying to traverse social situations, new people, family, and herself is very rewarding. I felt a real bond with Anna as she so desperately wants a friend, someone who understands her, but without having to navigate the social anxieties of it.
This film also holds a lot of secrets about Anna’s past, Marnie’s life, and the mansion by the marsh. Sometimes it feels confusing, but by the end you realize how the movie is unfurling itself in a deliberate way.
When Marnie Was There delves into accepting who you are, coping with your past, learning to trust others, letting people help you, and forgiveness. It does all of this with a touch towards the fantastical and a true understanding of the young heart.
We’ve all heard that When Marnie Was There was the last film in production at Studio Ghibli. That doesn’t totally mean they will never make another movie, but there is no work currently being done on any upcoming features. So, if Marnie is their last film, I think it is one they can be proud of.