‘When Marine Was There’
Director:
Hiromasa Yonebayashi
Voices of: Sara Takatsuki, Kasumi Arimura
Rating: NR
3 (out of 5) Globes

“When Marnie Was There” is the quietly unassuming possible final film made by Japan’s beloved Studio Ghibli, who since 1985 have been perhaps among the most consistent and reliable moviemakers in the world. Hayao Miyazaki (“Spirited Away”) is the biggest and most prolific member of the studio, who are shuttering, though maybe not for eternity. The retired legend cowrote “The Secret Life of Arrietty,” the previous film by “Marnie” director Hiromasa Yonebayashi, whose films are far more modest and sneaky than his, adopting fantastical story hooks — little people in “Arietty,” the perhaps spectral imaginary friend of a lonely girl here — and treating them in ways that, compared to “Spirited Away” or “Princess Mononoke,” almost qualify as mundane, if no less enchanting.

It’s not even clear what kind of being regal mystery youth Marnie (voice of Kasumi Arimura) is. A fit of depression that has birthed panic attacks has sent glum 12-year-old Anna (Sara Takatsuki) to recoup in the country, shacking up with relatives in their serene lakeside town — one of many to be found in the Ghibli-verse. Anna gets perhaps too relaxed, as boredom leads her to snoop, and snooping leads her to find Marnie, a blonde beauty with whom she hatches an intimate friendship — much-needed for both. 

"Marnie" doesn't have the highs or the feverish imagination of a Miyazaki — or an Isao Takahata ("Grave of the Fireflies") — but it has the same love for serenity and deep compassion. The friendship between the two girls is very much like deep love, and though there's a surprise twist at the end, it's very much a paean to the kind of deep connection that goes deeper than what society demands. Even if it weren't it would be a beaut to get lost in — all sharp country greens and blues. It makes you think Studio Ghibli will live forever, even in potential death.

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