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Featured Blu-ray / DVD Review: When Marnie Was There

October 6th, 2015

When Marnie Was There - Buy from Amazon: DVD or Blu-ray Combo Pack

When Marnie Was There

When Marnie Was There is the latest Studio Ghibli released through GKIDS. It did very well in limited release, at least compared to most animated films, but it was still not seen by most. Now it is coming out on Blu-ray / DVD. Is it worth checking out for those missed it the first time? Is it worth picking up for fans of the studio?

The Movie

The film begins on a school ground where we meet Anna, a 12-year old girl. She's an outsider at school and is drawing by herself. At school, she has an asthma attack/possible a panic attack. The doctor tells her adoptive mother, Yoriko, that perhaps she should spend time with Yoriko's relatives. They live by the coast in a rural part of Japan and the air there is much cleaner than in the city. With that, Yoriko sends Anna to her aunt and uncle's to live while her condition improves.

After Anna gets settled in, she writes Yoriko a postcard and goes to the post office to send it. On the way back, she sees an old mansion in a salt marsh on the ocean and is immediately drawn to it. She explores the place for long enough that the tide comes in. She is rescued by a fisherman, Toichi, in a rowing boat. When she looks back at the mansion, she sees it in good repair with the lights on. At least that's what she sees for a moment. When she finally gets back home, her uncle warns her not to return... because of ghosts. He seems to think all of the old buildings are haunted.

That night, Anna has a dream where she tries to get to the mansion, but the marsh is too deep. She does see a blonde girl in the window before she wakes up. That day, she gets another ride from Toichi. Toichi doesn't talk a lot, or at all. Some of the kids of the village tease him. On the other hand, this is exactly what Anna wants. She wants to sit in his boat and draw, while not talking to anyone. She doesn't want to socialize so much that when aunt tries to get her to spend time with another girl, Nobuko, she ... well, reacts. As Yoriko told the doctor, she never shows emotion anymore, so even a slight pause while walking is a big deal for her.

Even so, Anna does go to the Tanabata festival, because she likes confrontation even less than socializing. Eventually, Nobuko is too much for her and she snaps and runs away to the sea. After a flashback, she sees a rowboat in the water and decides to use it to get to the mansion. She finally meets the girl she has been dreaming about, Marnie. Marnie snuck out of her room to meet with Anna, she even left her the rowboat. However, Marnie makes Anna promise to keep their friendship a secret and Anna agrees.

They continue to meet in secret, but I think this is a good point to end the plot synopsis, as we are getting into spoiler territory.

Studio Ghibli generally has two types of movies. They have their big fantasy epics, like Howl's Moving Castle or Princess Mononoke and they also have more "slice of life" films, some of which also have fantasy elements. These include Kiki's Delivery Service. When Marnie Was There is one such "slice of life" film. It is important to make this distinction, because their big fantasy epic films tend to be more popular than their other films.

On the other hand, I very much enjoyed When Marnie Was There. It's great to see well-rounded female characters in movies like this. The characters are well-rounded and their friendship feels natural and engaging. It is still rather unusual for cartoons to focus on characters like this. Although to be fair to Studio Ghibli, this could be one of their signature elements. Another signature element for the studio is their technical expertise. This movie looks amazing. The scope is modest and the pacing is deliberate, but I think most fans of Studio Ghibli will love the movie.

The Extras

Extras begin with a 43-minute long making of featurette, which is Japanese with English subtitles. There is also a 17-minute long featurette that shows real life art inspired by the movie, while a narrator goes over the basic plot. Again, this is in Japanese with English subtitles. You can also watch the entire movie in storyboard form. Finally, there is a 13-minute featurette with the English-Language cast.

As with most Studio Ghibli movies, the technical presentation is amazing. Its near flawless. The colors are vivid, the level of details never dips below incredible, and the blacks are always deep. It is not the most visually intensive movie I've seen, but you can hardly fault the transfer for that. Likewise, the audio isn't the most dynamic, but the Blu-ray does an excellent job of reproducing the theater experience.

The Blu-ray costs $22, which is $4 or 22% more than the DVD. That's a better price than most similar releases have.

The Verdict

When Marnie Was There tells a more grounded tale of friendship and loneliness, if you prefer the more epic Studio Ghibli films, this one won't be quite as satisfying. On the other hand, if you like their more modest tales, this is a must see. The DVD or Blu-ray Combo Pack has enough extras that is it definitely worth picking up.

Filed under: Video Review, Omoide no Mani, Geena Davis, John C. Reilly, Raini Rodriguez, Kiernan Shipka, Grey Delisle, Hailee Steinfeld