Very little was known about this film when it was announced, other than the fact that it was based on a book of the same name by Joan G. Robinson, and was set in Norfolk. As it turned out, much of the film was changed, including the setting being moved from England to Japan, but When Marnie Was There managed to keep its charm and delicate yet strong storytelling.

When Marnie Was There follows the story of Anna, an introverted and tomboyish girl who suffers from severe asthma, and is sent to a small coastal village to live with her relatives and recover with the fresh sea air. She remains a loner despite the efforts of her relatives and the village children to include her in activities, and she gets drawn to a mysterious house on the edge of the salt flats.

This is where Anna meets Marnie, an adventurous, excitable and very feminine girl who is almost her polar opposite. The main thread of the film follows their blossoming friendship, and it is quite beautiful, and somehow melancholy to watch.

The secondary thread of the film follows Anna trying to find out more about the house, as it is clearly abandoned, but Marnie claims to live there. There’s a strange magic about the place, and it seems that Anna is falling into different eras or perhaps realities every time she meets Marnie. By the end of the film, the two threads meet and all is explained – and it actually centres more on the theme of friendship, family and interpersonal connections than one would expect. The final reveal is the film’s greatest strength, beautiful and subtle and entirely plausible. Combined with the music, it is quite emotional, and all the stronger for the fact that it would have been very easy for the scriptwriters to mess it up.

This film has the elements of a classic Gothic horror – eerie house, familial history, hints of magic on the borders of reality – but the way it is told carries the feeling of long drawn-out summer evenings where drinks flow, the air is cool, and companionship is never far. It’s a really sweet story, with some beautiful animation and great atmosphere, and it’s more than worth a watch.


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