When Marnie Was There

09/04/20

Netflix

We’re continuing our Ghibli odyssey, courtesy of Netflix, and tonight’s selection is 2014’s whimsical When Marnie Was There. Adapted from Joan G Robinson’s 1967 Norfolk-based novel, Keiko Niwa’s script moves the action to a small Japanese coastal town, where asthmatic twelve-year-old Anna is sent for a summer of clean air and recuperation.

Anna (Sara Takatsuki) is a troubled kid: fostered because her parents are dead; socially awkward and unpopular at school; good at art but too self-conscious to let anyone see her work; habitually tongue-tied, but volatile – so that, when she does speak, it’s usually in anger. A holiday in the countryside with the kindly Oiwas (Susumu Terajima and Toshie Negishi) is just what she needs, for her mental as well as her physical health.

On a solitary walk in the marshland, Anna spots a derelict mansion, and feels strangely drawn to the place. There, she meets Marnie (Kasumi Arimura), a mysterious blonde girl, who lives in the house with her parents and servants. The friendship that develops is fierce, intense – and, at Marnie’s insistence, secret. Anna becomes obsessed; her feelings for Marnie are all-consuming. But not everything is as it seems…

When Marnie Was There is as beautifully crafted as you’d expect from this deservedly renowned studio: the drawings are delicate and sumptuous and full of emotion. The images of water and food are particularly lush, the latter almost making my mouth water.

And if the story is light and the revelations predictable, it’s nonetheless charming and very well told.

4 stars

Susan Singfield

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