Based on Joan G. Robinson’s 1967 fantasy adventure novel of the same name this was originally released in 2014 and has only just become available for limited screenings in the UK. It was the final film produced by Studio Ghibli before they announced their short hiatus after the release of The Tale of Princess Kaguya (2013). Unfortunately, this – their twentieth feature – could be the very last film made by these wonderful animators. If that is the case, what a legacy they have left us, and what a remarkable way to sign off.
Anna Sasaki is a reticent, lonely and unhappy twelve-year-old girl who lives with her foster parents Yoriko and her husband in Sapporo. She discovers her guardians are paid by the Japanese government to look after her and develops further feelings of insecurity and resentment and struggles with her own identity of sense of being and purpose in life.
One day at school she suffers an asthma attack and goes to stay with Yoriko’s relatives, Setsu and Kiyomasa Oiwa, in a rural seaside town to benefit from the clean air and ocean views.
Anna discovers an magnificent, but dilapidated and apparently abandoned mansion situated across a salt marsh. She becomes obsessed with the house, and furthermore, a mysterious blonde girl called Marnie – a girl who is equally unhappy as Anna. Is Marnie real? A ghost? Or a figment of Anna’s imagination?
The animation is gorgeous. The story is charming, dark, funny and heart-breaking. It will appeal from eight to eighty and everyone will take something from it. For me, I was Anna at that age (asthma included!). A shy, insecure boy who questioned his place in the world.
It’s so lovely that at a time of CGI and 3D and fast, frantic, frenzied editing employed by the Bays and Emmerichs of this world, there are real filmmakers out there making pure cinema. Ghibli have conjured yet another slice of magical movie-making and let’s pray it isn’t time for them to say sayonara for many years to come.