Friday, June 5, 2015

When Marnie Was There

Studio Ghibli's latest - and possibly last - feature, is a stunning film, one I would call a masterpiece. I would understand if that view is not shared by everyone in the audience though, as I think Marnie is a film focused on the interior of its characters. It allows the introverted personality type a screen on which to play out and animation is a form which allows character's inner senses to be shown exquisitely to an audience. Anna, the main character, questions her place in the world. If you don't find any resonance with Anna and her perspective on her place in the world, this may be a bit melodramatic for you. Though the film will still be enjoyable as a mystery - and as always for a Studio Ghibli film, it is beautifully drawn and edited together. If you are sympathetic or aware of the introverted personality, you may also see this as a masterpiece.

When Marnie Was There is unlike most American animated films and certainly almost all CG animation. As a film for the introvert, the quiet amongst us, or even just those unsure about their place in the world, Marnie is a different film experience. In the end, it also becomes a film about accepting who we are and being comfortable in our own skin, even when we are not flashy or popular. For me, this is an important narrative for our current consciousness, so hyper-available and exposed on social media. In comparison with many films today, and certainly with most animated films, a celebration of being kind and empathetic, instead of snarky and cynical, is a refreshing change at the cinema.

I loved this film for being everything most films these days are not. And no one does this better than Studio Ghibli.

"Marnie" is something of a ghost story, in the sense that memory and history are at the heart of the very best ghost stories. Anna, a foster child who believes she is, as she says to open the film, "outside the circle" that everyone else is within, discovers much about herself by opening herself up to others.

And the others she opens herself to really shine through as characters unseen in film. Each is somewhat minor, but they make up her world and the whole becomes greater than each on their own. The Oiwa's, a couple she goes to stay with are not typical for caretakers these days - they recognize Anna as sensible enough and let her go her own way, even when there might be a bit of danger or a sense of going alone. They give her an opportunity to meet other people, but never push her. (For what it is worth - I saw both the subtitled and the English versions - though I probably prefer the subtitled, the Oiwa's dialogue in English was funnier and endeared me to them even more.)

Anna also meets Toichi, an introverted fisherman to the point of never speaking, but who seems to understand that Anna needs a friend. And Sayaka, a new younger friend for Anna who is passionate, but smart, embodies the role in film of the kid who decides to investigate - to get to the bottom of the mystery - and comes through with the information in the end. All the empathetic characters play off other minor characters who are more typically extroverted. In their extroversion, they just seem pushy because of their inability to see  those around them who are not interested in being open books to the world.

And then there is Marnie. A child who tells stories and lives life to the fullest when she can. Capable, but still doubtful of much of her life. Someone who needs Anna as much as Anna needs someone like Marnie. Any more could spoil the narrative.

I'll end my first post in a long time by suggesting the narrative of what Studio Ghibli is might need a bit of modern revisioning. For most in the audience, Ghibli means the amazing fantasies of Hayao Miyazaki. There can be little doubt that Totoro, Princess Mononoke, and the worlds of Spirited Away and Howl's Moving Castle are what Ghibli's reputation is built on. But there are also the visionary works of Isao Takahata. And mostly more recent films featuring more personal and realistic narratives, seemingly fantastic because their simple perspectives of kindness and empathy are not often seen on screen, let alone in our daily lives - (i.e., Whisper of the Heart, From Up On Poppy Hill, The Wind Rises, and now Marnie). This type of narrative is for me what Ghibli is about - even through all the earlier films - and only one of the films I named above was directed by Hayao. I also have a great appreciation for The Secret World of Arriety, directed by Marnie's director, Hiromasa Yonebayashi. Many Ghibli fans like these films, but many more on the internets have bashed them for various reasons - often for not being like Hayao Miyazaki's films. I can't help but feel this is the reason the young directors Yonebayashi and Goro Miyazaki have left the Studio.Though perhaps Miyazaki and Takahata understand the public in the same way.

If When Marnie Was There is to be Ghibli's last feature film, I say it is a fitting coda to an emotional set of themes that Ghibli did so well - and almost exclusively. It is playing around the country now - and if it's not in your town, you can set up a screening by gathering a bunch of viewers to commit to coming. It's a great film and well worth seeing on the big screen.

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