‘When Marnie Was There’ – A Different Kind of Ghost Story

Entertainment Movies Reviews


I arrived late to the whimsical works of Studio Ghibli, and I take great pains to ensure that my children don’t make the same mistake. They’ve grown up with My Neighbor Totoro, Kiki’s Delivery Service, and Spirited Away, and just last week we added another fine film to the list–When Marnie Was There.

Originally released in Japan in 2014, this fantastic feature arrives on American shores in a Blu-ray + DVD combo pack today from Universal Pictures Home Entertainment. It offers the same stunning visuals and touching sentimentality as Hiromasa Yonebayashi’s Studio Ghibli directorial debut, The Secret World of Arrietty, and, like that film, it masterfully combines the studio’s uniquely Japanese storytelling style with obvious Western literary elements.

Based on the young adult novel by Joan G. Robinson, When Marnie Was There tells the story of a girl on the cusp of adulthood. The orphaned Sapporo lives with her loving but frazzled foster parents, who send her away for the summer to visit their relations in a quaint seaside town.

But, even there, Sapporo’s crushing doubts and overall feelings of isolation prevent her from making any true connections–save, perhaps, with the stoic fisherman Toichi and Marnie, an enigmatic girl who lives in a ruined mansion on the opposite end of the marsh.

It’s the growing bond between these two girls–one that, while not romantic, is obviously far more than mere friendship–that powers the story forward and leads to an eventual reveal that will likely surprise younger viewers… as well as many adults.

Rated PG, When Marnie Was There only contains the barest of adult “thematic elements,” briefly touching on issues like physical and emotional abuse, an implied teenage pregnancy, and the kind of self-hatred that results when anguish is internalized. Mostly, though, it’s a tale about how mistakes can cascade across generations, and how the hardest person to forgive is often oneself.

With a narrative that’s eerie, emotional, and eventually uplifting, When Marnie Was There will make a perfect addition to your own Ghibli library. Both the DVD and Blu-ray copies include English, French, and Japanese audio tracks, as well as English and French subtitles, and a nice behind-the-scenes look at the American voice talent–which includes Kathy Bates, Geena Davis, and John C. Reilly. The Blu-ray, of course, boasts even more content, including “Making of” and “Art of” featurettes and bonus storyboards.

Review materials provide by: Universal Pictures Home Entertainment

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