Suffering from frequent asthma attacks, young Anna Sasaki is quiet, unsociable, and isolated from her peers, causing her foster parent endless worry. Upon recommendation by the doctor, Anna is sent to the countryside, in hope that the cleaner air and more relaxing lifestyle will improve her health and help clear her mind. Engaging in her passion for sketching, Anna spends her summer days living with her aunt and uncle in a small town near the sea. One day while wandering outside, Anna discovers an abandoned mansion known as the Marsh House. However, she soon finds that the residence isn't as vacant as it appears to be, running into a mysterious girl named Marnie. Marnie's bubbly demeanor slowly begins to draw Anna out of her shell as she returns night after night to meet with her new friend. But it seems there is more to the strange girl than meets the eye—as her time in the town nears its end, Anna begins to discover the truth behind the walls of the Marsh House. Omoide no Marnie tells the touching story of a young girl's journey through self-discovery and friendship, and the summer that she will remember for the rest of her life. [Written by MAL Rewrite]
With Studio Ghibli it’s hard to separate the monoliths previous works from it’s new ones. Even just last year Isao Takahata released his swan song “Kaguya Hime no Monogatari” which broke ground on an animation level, added narrative depth to a tenth century folk tale, and was certainly Ghibli’s most ravishing work since Sen to Chihiro. Yet despite the narrative currently surrounding Studio Ghibli (a subsidiary of Disney no less) going under, Kageyabashi manages to weave an extremely simplistic and rather flat tale similar in pace to his previous effort Arietty.
Although based off of a novel, the story manages to be paced rather poorly and often tends to wander into pretentious ground. What starts as an awkward encounter laden with romantic undertones between two girls in the countryside ends up meandering into purely sentimental fog. The “twist” conclusion while not totally overplayed felt exhausting and tired, and the short duration of only 102 minutes flares frequently due to the unfeeling main heroine. Anna’s character while understandably young, shows very little development throughout the narrative and instead simply does an about-face right after the conveniently written Hisako simply explains the entire story of Marnie. The mystery of the girl vanishes into thin air along with the girl herself, as Marnie’s character too, is highly contradicting. As a child she was frequently bullied and harassed by the maids who took care of her, yet Marnie still holds “a great fondness” for the mansion in which she lived in. The inconsistency of Marnie’s character which changes from a mentor-like friend towards Anna into a tormented coward seems all too confusing, and ultimately dissatisfying especially when comparing this films character study to other animated films in the same genre such as Flanders no Inu.
Visually Omoide Marnie displays some of the industries finest hand-drawn work. A great attention to detail can be seen in the creation of the Oiwa’s home the animation detail of characters in the background such as the festival sequence or the opening scene in the playground. A few notable good cuts also help elevate the narrative and even provide some interesting take on foreshadowing. An excellent example is a cut from Anna’s sketch of Marnie into Anna’s face itself in the same position on screen. Other than this though, very few liberties were taken in terms of originality, and the score is by all means simply average.
With that said I must conclude that while Omoide Marnie is a very pretty film, it is not well-paced. The lead characters are irritating and trite, and the conclusion feels rushed and a bit shallow. The ultimate issue is that for a film that does not have much action, there is also not a lot to be said about it. The movie passes through like a haze, leaving little to chew on. For an animated supernatural film it lacks whimsy and it’s overt serious tone is simply too ham-handed for how it addresses it’s subject matter. It is hard for me to recommend this film therefore only watch if you are very interested in the sasuga animation of Studio Ghibli.