Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Movie with Abe: When Marnie Was There

When Marnie Was There
Directed by Hiromasa Yonebayashi
Released May 22, 2015

In 2001, the Academy Awards established a separate category to honor outstanding achievement in animation each year. In the fifteen years since then, it has served as a vehicle to recognize animated films mostly produced by Pixar, Disney, and other American companies that are fun for children and sometimes for all ages. Occasionally, however, the category also honors films from around the world that are most definitely not just for children. One country that has been cited numerous times is Japan, and this year the country is represented by “When Marnie Was There,” an exploration of one girl’s loneliness and the immediate mystical connection she finds when she is transplanted to a magical world.

Anna, a young girl living in Japan, begins narrating her story by explaining that there is an invisible circle where everyone is on the inside and she is on the inside. She has no friends, partially because her peers find her weird, but also because she is a loner with few social skills. Attributing her unhappiness to her asthma, her kindly foster parents send her to live with relatives, where she discovers a whole new and wonderful place that only appears when the tide is right and meets another lonely girl who will forever change her life: Marnie.

Animated films often deal with magic and imagined realities, and it remains unclear for most of “When Marnie Was There” whether what Anna is experiencing with Marnie is actually happening or not. It is not explicitly defined, and there are no mystical creatures that appear to signal that this is clearly all in her head. Ultimately, that is not important, since Anna becomes a different person when she is able to see someone else’s life and understand her own from a new perspective. It is a transformative and endearing journey, and the friendship that develops between Anna and Marnie is clearly beneficial to both of them.

There are few characters that appear in “When Marnie Was There,” with clear distinctions of different types of people existing in this world. There are the innocent children, like Anna and Marnie, who struggle to fit in. There are the generous adults who care for them as best they can, and those who ignore or abuse them, as well as other children too vain to live truly rich lives. The lessons here are heartwarming and genuine, and, as a film, this animated entry is a generally affirming and enjoyable exploration of friendship that does not reach incredible heights but succeeds well enough.


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