When dealing with animated feature films for all of the family, Studio Ghibli have never been ones to shy away from studiously exploring very human, adult themes, making them accessible in a way that can be appreciated by the younger crowd. There’s a responsibility to not talk down to the viewer, and to examine the consequences and emotions that derive from the severity of real life; and the Japanese studio’s latest picture, When Marnie Was There, is no different – with grief and depression prevalent themes – letting kids know if they feel this way, they’re not alone.
Hiromasa Yonebayashi helms the project (though admits to seeking the advice of the now retired, but immensely influential Hayao Miyazaki), as we delve into the life of Anna (Hailee Steinfeld), a teenage girl sent to live with relatives to help overcome a recent bout of depression. Sailing out across the sea one day, at the other end she stumbles across a seemingly abandoned mansion, which is where she meets Marnie (Kiernan Shipka), and the pair forge an unbreakable friendship which could help Anna remember what it is she loves about the world, and herself.
The combination of grave realism and sheer enchantment is one that has illuminated the screen, and become somewhat synonymous with Ghibli productions. Their preceding film The Tale of Princess Kaguya had a certain fantastical element about the animation style, but this is more of a traditional approach, emblematic of a film not quite as surreal, steeped in a certain sense of realism that enriches our experience. Talking of which, there’s an incredible attention to detail, with so many things going on in the background, minor, seemingly inconsequential moments, but that help to craft this world and make it one that’s easy to immerse ourselves in, and to believe in.
Regrettably, it seems that When Marnie Was There may well be the very final cinematic offering to come from Studio Ghibli, and while that news is upsetting – and cinephiles around the world sincerely hope there’s still more to come – if this is the end, then it’s a more than worthy way to bow out.