There is one word that captivates the essence of When Marnie Was There and that is gentle.
Director Hiromasa Yonebayashi takes a very careful approach with quite deep and complex emotions. An approach that is embedded in every scene throughout the film, creating an empathetic atmosphere.
When Anna’s (Sara Takatsuki) troubled thoughts of rejection lead to a serious asthma attack, her foster parents send her away to the countryside for the summer to stay with her adoptive aunt and uncle.
There, she stumbles across an abandoned mansion and, feeling a connection, becomes drawn to the place and the young Marnie (Kasumi Arimura) who lives there. Anna is intrigued by the mysterious girl. Marnie is full of a light and love that entices Anna into her world but there is something a little strange about the vivacious blonde.
This ghost tale takes a fascinating turn, exploring themes of abandonment but at its heart remains about the kinship of two girls. Learning about Marnie’s life becomes somewhat therapeutic for Anna restoring the appetite for her own.
Yoneyabashi creates characters that are easy to care about and breaks up the heavy tension of Anna’s feelings with her aunt and uncle Kiyomaso and Setsu Oiwa. Played by Susumu Terajima and Toshie Negishi, they bring a light, jovial essence, which is fun to watch.
The character of Sayaka (Ava Acres) also provides gentle laughs when she forces herself into Anna’s life in a persistive-little sister type of way.
However despite the air of intrigue and mystery that Yonebayashi achieves there are several strings to the narrative that need tying up by the end. And though clarified well, the conclusion feels rushed and a little forced.
That said Yonebayashi takes Joan G. Robinson’s quaint British ghost story and creates an enchanting Japanese version that captures the magic in a way that only a Studio Ghibli film can.