[WHEN MARNIE WAS THERE opens in Cleveland on Friday June 5th exclusively at the Cedar Lee Theatre.]
Review by Charles Cassady, Jr.
So you can
identify with my befuddled state, these were the bookends: Noir, a
famous 2001 action serial (and, to my eyes, Sergio Leono tribute) about
two winsome young girls working as a lethal international
assassins-for-hire team, who are also puppets in the hands of a
1,000-year-old secret society. The other is Unlimited Psychic Squad, one
of those sci-fi deals in which telepaths with incredible
mind-superpowers duel like gods in a sort of alternate-history version
Yes, in between those, I had to squeeze in the latest
from Studio Ghibli. One of the few movie studios I can name whose very
brand is fused with retired founder Hayao Miyazaki's sense of reverence
for the natural world, gentleness, compassion, and the better side of
humanity (even the Disney empire can't lay claim to that kind of
Watching the new Ghibli release WHEN MARNIE
WAS THERE amidst all that other stuff, I felt like one of those starving
guys from the Japanese POW camps in UNBROKEN who finally gets out and
learns he can eat food again.
That is not to say that Studio
Ghibli doesn't have its own cliches and recurring themes. Vulnerable and
lonesome little girls, the loss of a parent (or two), the healing power
of a slower-paced community, and being a child in an unfamiliar
environment (usually the lush countryside). The timeworn syndrome that I
do believe a better critic than myself called the "Dead Parent Society"
propels WHEN MARNIE WAS THERE. Withdrawn adolescent Anna Sasaki, of the
city of Sapporo, suffers from asthma and a crippling sense of
abandonment since her parents died. Her foster mother sends Anna to a
rural coastal town and jovial relatives, the Oiwas. When Mr. Oiwa points
out local landmarks to the newcomer as being reputedly haunted, it's a
foreshadowing of where this story is going.
Anna, whose only real
interest in life is sketching, explores the area and becomes transfixed
with a grand but forlorn empty mansion, the Marsh House, right on the
water's edge. But is it abandoned? Anna is hailed by Marnie, a blonde
girl in a somewhat antiquated costume, who claims to live in the house
with a retinue of servants and her wealthy parents (who are always away
But Marnie has a habit of vanishing suddenly. Anna
returns and sees the once-empty house blazing with light and partygoers
in evening clothes from nearly a century ago - but nobody else in town
seems to notice. Despite such nagging details, Anna obsessively seeks
the elusive Marnie out, for she considers the mystery girl her only real
friend, and vice-versa. Even though Marnie won't leave the immediate
vicinity of the Marsh House to visit.
You'd have to be thick as a
plank not to realize that this is indeed ghostly business, albeit
friend-ghostly business, ultimately suffused with loss and melancholy,
not scares. It's rather hard to tell whether the Ghibli filmmakers and
director Hiromasa Yonebayashi really expect their viewers to be like
Anna, completely oblivious to Marnie's paranormal true nature and
(obvious) surprise-ending tie to the heroine.
It likely doesn't
matter. Ghibli movies have the knack for appealing both to the very
young and eroding the jaded cynicism of adults such as myself,
soul-deadened and scarred though we may be by the astronomical body
counts of something like Noir. It's not an issue how predictable or
secondhand WHEN MARNIE WAS THERE occasionally feels. Just let go and
allow yourself to be soothed by the yarn, and don't get too worked up
that the Disney release (with an English vocal-cast dub) harmless,
gentle feature was slapped with a PG rating by the MPAA, so nobody would
think it just "kidstuff."
WHEN MARNIE WAS THERE is based on a
1967 YA novel of UK origins, of which I must declare I was not
previously acquainted. Which explains not very Japanese names such as
"Anna" and "Marnie." Fortunately (or not, as the case may be) the Dead
Parent Society speaks a language that crosses borders.
Okay, back to Unlimited Psychic Squad. I wonder if Hyoubu will blast somebody through a mountain in this episode. 3 out of 4 stars.