Japanese animator Hiromasa Yonebayashi’s film When Marnie Was There is a reflective and lyrical tale about a girl who finds herself through a spiritual and metaphysical journey connecting with her past.
Anna is a solitary young girl who has problems connecting with her peers at school. She is picked on and is pretty much an outcast. It is slowly revealed that she is an adopted child and is unable to connect with her adoptive parents. One day she falls sick because of her aggravated asthma and her doctor suggests that she be sent away to the countryside to get some fresh air. She is sent away to a little town to her uncle and aunt’s home. Anna gets on a train and heads into the Japanese countryside, with decadent animated visuals of ravines, lakes, mountains and country living.
She arrives to her aunt and uncle’s cottage. The home is idyllically surrounded by greenery all around. The couple grow their own food and live a comfortable simple life, away from the pressing pangs of city living.
One day on a boat ride on the lake, Anna comes upon an old mansion and the vision of a beautiful young girl with flowing blond hair. The girl named Marnie tells Anna that she has been waiting for her for a long time and soon the two begin to connect and spend time together. They dance, sing, begin to get to know each other as if they are long lost siblings.
Marnie begins to introduce Anna to her family, her home and her surroundings. For Anna it’s like going down memory lane and reliving memories from a world far away, yet very familiar and close to her heart.
Anna still struggles to connect with anyone other than Marnie, but her uncle and aunt are happy that she has found herself at home in the country, quite oblivious of her daily outings with Marnie.
One day Anna and Marnie decide to visit the Silo, an old tower-like structure that has been abandoned for years. As they make their way inside, the weather turns and it beings to rain. The rain forces both girls to run for cover. Marnie is calling out to someone called Kazuhiko but Anna reminds her that she is at the Silo with her and not Kazuhiko. Anna takes to slumber, but wakes up and finds that Marnie is gone. Anna is heartbroken as she feels that Marnie abandoned her and left her at the Silo. Broken and crying, she runs back home, unbeknownst of what happened to Marnie.
The film is a journey you take with this young girl Anna, who is out looking for someone to call her own, someone who can tell her who she is. While the story is simply told, it’s not far from the reality of a lot of young people who find themselves lost not knowing who they are and where they fit. The foundation that they look for in their parents is not always there and they are left wandering.
While Anna is able to find herself and the truth behind Marnie, the story gently explores the intricacies of a young person’s thoughts which include memories, dreams, sobs and little joys and above all the desire to belong.
When Marnie was There takes you to this tranquil exterior that Anna inhabits and finally is able to help her find some solace and calm the chaos within.
With rumours doing the rounds that this is going to be the last offering from Studio Ghibli’s magical world, watch this for its gentle simplicity and a young person’s attempts to find her own.
When Marnie Was There is playing at Cinema du Parc.