If I were to tell you, that I run this silly anime website, but have never seen a Studio Ghibli film, it would seem strange. That is the predicament I was in before I went and saw When Marnie Was There with friend of the site Hailey. This is however, unless I’m misremembering my childhood, but the only other experience I had with Studio Ghibli was in 2013’s Ni no Kuni on the PlayStation 3. When Marnie Was There is also the final film Studio Ghibli is producing before they take a hiatus following the retirement of director Hayao Miyazaki.
The story begins with Anna, a young girl with asthma who has a severe asthma attack that causes her to collapse. She is then sent off to live with relatives of her foster mother in Kushiro in order to help her live better and become happier. It is here with Anna becomes smitten for an old mansion across a lake. Eventually, Anna meets a girl who lives in the mansion named Marnie. This is where the story kicks off into mystery and wonder in trying to figure out exactly who Marnie is. When Marnie Was There is based off a book with the same title, but I am unaware of any discrepancies between the two stories.
Going into this film, I didn’t read anything regarding what it was about or how the story would be structured. This left me wondering what on Earth was going on throughout the first half of the movie when the story was building. The story does drop clues here and there, but I only figured out what was going on for the most part in the mystery about ¾ of the way through it. I wouldn’t say this is a knock against the film, but don’t go in expecting to be told everything up front.
The animation is really well done throughout the entirety of the film. Which isn’t a surprise to veterans of Studio Ghibli films; even I know the pedigree that the animation team there has. Everything is just meticulously well done down to the tiniest detail. It is a very pretty movie to just bask in and view outside of the enjoying it for the story alone. It almost feels as if you can imagine how effortless this sort of animation is for this studio.
A key facet of seeing this movie is that I saw the English dub of it. There has been a lot of talk recently about dubs in the past few years and what could be seen as a decline in the quality of it. We’ve certainly talked about it on the podcast before, but I was pleasantly surprised that this dub was fine. There are a few notable actors lending their voices in it such as, John C. Reilly, Vanessa Williams, Geena Davis, and Kathy Bates. With this type of pedigree, it would probably be very hard to screw up this dub and luckily, fans of English dubs will be treated to an inoffensive and well produced cast.
For my first Studio Ghibli film, I enjoyed it for the most part. The pacing is rather slow and drags on in the first half, but the second half really kicks the film into gear with the last twenty minutes repeatedly hitting you with intense emotions. I will say that this film was the hardest I’ve hard to fight off tears in a long time. Seeing this film does make me want to go back now and see all of the classic Ghibli films more so than ever to find out what I have been missing. Fans of Ghibli might thing this is a weaker showing from the studio, but for first timers like me, you’ll find a beautifully drawn and emotional narrative to suck you in. As long as you can find a theater around you showing When Marnie Was There.