When Marnie Was There is the most recent title from Studio Ghibli and is somewhat in the vein of The Wind Rises... an odd mixture of dreams and reality, although this movie has a much less definite line between the two.
Once again the countryside of Japan is almost another character in the movie. It's one of the things that Ghibli does perfectly... all the way back to titles like My Neighbour Totoro and Only Yesterday... just the way they deal with grass and water and wide vistas is gorgeous.
The story of Anna, who comes to stay with relatives in the country for the summer to help with her asthma, is something of an odd one. I can't really think of another movie where the line between dream/fantasy and reality is both undefined and confusing. Even Totoro made sense in that the fantasy creatures where clearly fantasy, but with Marnie, what's actually going on isn't made clear, is it ghosts, is it time travel, is Anna having a psychotic break and it's all in her head... and even at the end of the movie when it's explained, or at least revealed, it's seems to be left up the audience to really connect all the dots to make the story make sense.
Granted, we did see the English dub version, so maybe the original Japanese/subtitled version is more explicit.
Likewise with Anna's relationship with her guardian... I couldn't work out what it actually was for a big chunk of the movie. Very mild spoiler... Anna is a foster child.
And I'll be honest, right up until the reveal of the ending, the story does have what feels like some fairly strong lesbian subtext. Actually not even subtext... just straight out text at times.
Which feels kind of weird to be honest. Granted a lot of it is also just a gender switch of the usual kinds of chaste romantic plots in Ghibli movies, but even so, it just feels a little odd.
Anna also feels like something of a brat in the first part of the movie... you kind of understand why as it progresses, but she says a number of things that make it difficult to like her.
Overall it's a very pretty movie, but I don't think it's the best story. Maybe it's the same issue that has occurred with a number of the other Ghibli adaptations of Western novels (Howl, I'm looking straight at you), and there was something lost from the original novel by Joan G Robinson during the conversion to a Japanese sensibility, I don't know.
It's not bad, by any stretch of the imagination, it's just not as strong as some of their other movies.
yani's rating: 3 sketchbooks out of 5