Studio Ghibli has deserved much recognition and praise over the years as being one of the greatest animated studios in the world. With such legendary films from the likes of My Neighbour Totoro (1988) and the Oscar-winning Spirited Away (2001). It is hard to pick one film in its canon that has never been met without such acclaim. Now that the studio founder Hayao Miyazaki has retired, it is hard to know what direction the studio will head in. However, before the studio took a hiatus, after his retirement, they left us with one final film. When Marnie was there (2014) could be the studio’s last, but let’s hope that it isn’t.
Anna is a shy 12 year old girl, with very few friends, and has little interest in getting close to anyone. When she suffers from an anxiety attack one day in school, it is decided that she should visit some relatives in a seaside town as the fresh air will do her good. When she still refuses to let anyone in, she soon discovers an abandoned house out by a lake. There she meets Marnie; young girl who shows her how to love herself and everyone, but is still a mystery to Anna. Is she just a figment of her imagination? Or is there something otherworldly about the mysterious young girl?
The film itself reminds me of an earlier Ghibli title Grave of the Fireflies (1988), in the sense that the film is far removed from childish and fantasy elements that we would have seen in the likes of Totoro. It is a much more mature look at teenage angst and even touches on themes of isolation and depression. Anna is quite the introvert and it really shows when she’s forcing herself to smile to act ‘normal.’ Although Marnie appears to be such an expressive presence that comes into her life, the mystery that surrounds her is both thought-provoking, and at times heart-breaking.
The film itself is truly magnificent to behold. It would be quite clichéd at this stage (in terms of Ghibli) to say that the film looks absolutely beautiful, but it’s hard not to. The landscape and representation is always so full of life in the studios films and rendered so well. Although you can sympathise with Anna through her emotional struggles, the film is very careful dealing with the matter with genuine care.
The film is gentle, sweet, and by the time the credits roll you have been through a flurry of emotions, before reaching that heart-warming climax sure to touch even the most cynical of people. If this really is Ghibli’s final production, they really have left on a high note.