Ghibli’s Tale Of Friends, Family And The Supernatural In Cinemas Now

Ghibli’s Tale Of Friends, Family And The Supernatural In Cinemas Now

When Marnie Was There, from the acclaimed Studio Ghibli is to be released in selected Australian cinemas for two weeks only, starting today. It is an excellent tale of friendship and family all set against the backdrop of an incredibly personal supernatural story. Here’s the Kotaku review.

Good — A Supernatural Mystery

When Marnie Was There is one of those movies that believes in “show not tell” and avoids exposition like the plague. This is an excellent choice as this film thrives on the viewer trying to correctly interpret the movie.

In the beginning, Anna, after visiting an abandoned house, dreams of Marnie at night. But then, she meets Marnie in the flesh — and the abandoned house seems anything but. Soon the two are playing together nearly every day — having picnics and attending lavish parties thrown by Marnie’s parents. Yet, strange moments accompany their meetings: Marnie seemingly disappears at random and Anna is found passed out on the side of the road on more than one occasion.

Is Marnie a ghost? Is she Anna’s imaginary friend? Or is she just a hallucination brought on my Anna’s medical condition? The film leaves the interpretation of these events up to you (until it’s time for the big reveal, of course) and thus keeps you engaged throughout the film.

Good — The World of an Introvert

Ghibli's Newest is a Tale of Friends, Family, and the Supernatural

Anna is a great example of what life is like for an introvert. She doesn’t want to hang out with large groups of kids nor does she want to be the center of attention for her artistic skill or because of the unusual colour of her eyes. This doesn’t mean she is unhappy, however. She clearly enjoys her sketching a great deal.

Before and after her move to the countryside, we see her react horribly when forced into social situations by adults. However, when left to her own devices, she makes friends one-on-one in her own way — be that with a mute fisherman, a landscape painter, or another young girl who has a connection with Marnie.

It is great to have a film that shows that just because a girl is introverted doesn’t mean she can’t be happy or make friends — just that she may go about it differently than extroverts.

Good — Parents, Children, and Family

Ghibli's Newest is a Tale of Friends, Family, and the Supernatural

On a thematic level, When Marnie Was There is also about the relationship between parents and children. Anna is not only an only child but also an orphan. Placed in the care of a distant relative only to then be sent off to the countryside to spend the summer with an even more distant relative has left her feeling abandoned by those who should care about her the most.

Marnie, on the other hand, has a mother and father but they are painfully distant; both are more concerned with throwing lavish parties or going out for a day on the town than with raising their child. Worse still, the maids, who have become her de facto family, routinely abuse her and make her life in the house a living hell. It is because of their parental problems that Anna and Marnie get along so well. Both are looking for someone to truly love them unconditionally and that serves as the basis for their friendship.

Bad — Worst Guardians Ever

Ghibli's Newest is a Tale of Friends, Family, and the Supernatural

Anna is a sick girl — we know this from the start of the film. She has some sort of congenital disease or defect affecting her heart or lungs which causes her great pain on random occasions at best or causes her to pass out at worst. In fact, she is sent to the country with its fresh air and fewer people in the hopes of lessening her attacks. Of course, if you pay attention to the film, you can see that the opposite is happening.

She suffers more than a few attacks over the course of the film — and after the first time she is found unconscious by the side of the road, you’d think that, perhaps, the people she is living with might just call a doctor or even just pay a bit more attention to her whereabouts. They do neither; and even after she collapses in a thunderstorm and is found unconscious in the rain with a fever that lasts for days, they do nothing to watch over her more carefully.

This is so unbelievable that it pulled me out of the film again and again. While it is necessary for the plot of the film that Anna have a large measure of freedom, her guardians’ complete and total lack of concern and common sense shattered my suspension of disbelief far more than anything concerning Marnie and the supernatural.

Final Thoughts

Ghibli's Newest is a Tale of Friends, Family, and the Supernatural

When Marnie Was There is an engaging film on both an intellectual and emotional level. It has a great personal mystery and a main character that you can’t help but fall in love with. Simply put, it is a film that easily lives up to Studio Ghibli’s good name.

When Marnie Was There is screening at selected cinemas on a limited two week release, from today.


  • hnnggggg, want this naowwww. How long is it generally between Japan releases and Western for Ghibli?

    • It’s possible that there will be a subbed release by the end of the year (I think Poppy Hill managed that), though it will definitely be out within the next year, with a dubbed release within the year after that.

    • You can get a subtitled release right now if you want – the Japanese bluray released in March has subtitles.

      It’ll probably take longer than normal to hit home video here because it’s getting a theatrical release.

  • From experience Ghibli movies tend to hit one of three themes – War (Porco Rosso, Grave of the Fireflies, Howl’s Moving Castle), Environment (Arrietty, Princess Mononoke, Raccoon Wars) and Supernatural (Totoro, Kikis Delivery Service, Spirited Away)

    The supernatural movies have always been fantastic – looking forward to another Ghibli gem

    • I don’t think Tales of Earthsea really fits any of those categories. But then, you’re not alone in wanting to forget that movie. (It wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t up to Ghibli’s usual standard.)

      “From Up on Poppy Hill”, “Only Yesterday”, “Ocean Waves” and (mostly) “Whispers of the Heart” are pretty much straight drama as I recall. “My Neighbours the Yamadas” is a fairly straightforward comedy.

      By Raccoon Wars I assume you mean Pom Poko? Never heard it called Raccoon Wars – they’re tanuki, not raccoons, darn it,

      • I would class From Up on Poppy Hill as a war movie – it certainly has strong war overtones through the whole movie (the nautical flags, her Dad’s backstory)

        I havent had a chance to watch Only Yesterday and Whispers of the Heart yet – Yes, the Yamadas is a comedy (but in very different style to most Ghibli movies since its based on a comic strip) – also the Cat Returns should be classed as supernatural too.

        Raccoon Wars = Pom Poko. My bad about that. I actually own Chinese bootlegs of the blurays of the Ghibli movies, and the translation lists it as Raccoon Wars, as does the subtitle track on the disc. They also list Porco Rosso as Crimson Pig, which doesnt sit right with me!! Tales from Earthsea I havent seen yet as the lady I buy the blurays off hasnt stocked it as of yet

    • Marnie actually cleaves closer to Ghibli’s Mono no aware films like Only Yesterday or Poppy Hill. There is a supernatural element to the film but that’s just one facet – the real story is about Anna coming to terms with her strained relationship with her foster mother.

      It’s an excellent film but if you go in expecting Totoro or Mononoke then you’ll be disappointed. It’s really not that sort of film. That said, it’s also probably the best written Ghibli film. There’s a moment toward the end where all the plot hints click into place and you realize what’s been going on and it’s incredibly satisfying.

    • You left out the best one after Grave of the Fireflies: Kaze no Tane no Naushica (Naushica of the valley of the wind) although the dubbing voices were terrible compared to the original. Sometimes Ghibli movies are best watched in the native Japanese the first time or with subtitles because the American voices used are often all wrong to the characters as they are meant to sound in the originals. Saw Tortoro by accident on NHK my first week in Hiroshima (and Nihon) in 1990 and have loved the Ghibly works ever since. Hmmm…Rapyuta (castle in the sky) is also missing. No criticism, just sayin’. And I know your comment is old but I’m happily stoned and just felt like typing…

  • As I recall ghibli is distributed by disney, thus if you want something very special you may want them ask squire enix do a special kingdom hearts world where something very emotional will happen while combining themes used by these studios who have done some of thee most heart breaking works ever

  • Unfortunately it sounds like the opening week didn’t go very well in Japan with the movie only making 42% of the earnings that Arrietty pulled in. Given the recent talks of this being the deciding movie for whether Ghibli continues on or not, we can only hope that things improve enough for them to try the overseas market.

    Not knowing the story it’s based on, I’d hazard a guess that Richard has missed something with the Guardians thing. Given that Anna is only their most distant niece, there’s probably an amount of annoyance at having to be lumped with someone they hardly know that constantly demands their attention all the time. This resentment would lead to them not really giving her the care and attention she needs, thus no real change in their behaviour after the incidents. Like I said, I don’t know the original story but given everything else Richard said was good, this seems like a probable reason, not a suspension of disbelief.

    • Fairly sure that she just suffered from bad asthma. She’s sent to the country by the sea for fresh air. It’s actually just the opposite with her guardians – they seem to care about her quite a bit. It seems like maybe more than her foster mother does. I’m also not convinced that they weren’t keeping an eye on her. It’s more that they were encouraging her to go outside and play around – she’s supposed to be there to get fresh air, after all. She’s normally home in time that they’re not concerned, seems healthy enough, and the main instance of her coming home late they most likely assumed she was out at the local festival.

      The big thing I think is that Richard has assumed that every time that Anna sees Marnie, it’s because she’s passed out unconscious, but I’m not sure that that was the case.

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