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quarta-feira, 4 de novembro de 2015

When Marnie Was There review: 'will leave you sobbing'

London Film Festival: The final film from Studio Ghibli, Japan's legendary animation house, is a swirling, gently gothic mystery about a girl's coming of age
Renowned though it is for the supreme subtlety of its storytelling, Studio Ghibli really knows how to milk an ending. Two years ago, Hayao Miyazaki, the Japanese animation house’s venerable wizard-in-chief, announced his retirement after the release of The Wind Rises – and six months later, his co-founder, Isao Takahata, did the same, following the completion of The Tale of the Princess Kaguya
Those two masterworks are a high note indeed on which to go out, and the studio’s third and final final film doesn’t have quite the same pedigree. The director is Hiromasa Yonebayashi, a relatively young (he’s 42) disciple of Miyazaki’s, who was at one point viewed within the studio as the master’s natural successor. 
When Marnie Was There is only his second feature as director (the first, an adaptation of Mary Norton’s The Borrowers called Arrietty, was released in 2010). It’s based on a novel of the same name by the English author Joan G Robinson, which was recently named by Miyazaki, alongside others including Winnie-the-Pooh, Heidi and The Secret Garden, as one of his own favourite children’s books – and its plot, which dwells on ghosts, art and memory, and the roles all three play in our growing up, is unmistakably Ghibli-ish.
Like so many of the studio’s films, it begins with a young girl in a new place. Here, she’s Anna (voiced by Sara Takatsuki, and by Hailee Steinfeld in the forthcoming English-language version), a timid, taciturn 12-year-old who’s sent by her foster parents to the seaside for the summer, in the hope that the clear air and fresh surroundings might ease her asthma and tempt her out of her shell. 

On her arrival, Anna spots a tumbledown mansion on the far side of a stretch of marshland: its stone walls and steep roof mark it out as European and therefore out of place, as if it had leapt out of a fairy tale and into the real world. But it seems strangely familiar, and Anna paddles across the marsh to investigate – where, through a glowing window, she momentarily glimpses a blonde girl of about her age. 
A still from Studio Ghibli's 'When Marnie Was There'
A still from Studio Ghibli's 'When Marnie Was There'Credit: Studio Ghibli
This is Marnie, who’s voiced by Kasumi Arimura (and by Kiernan Shipka – Mad Men’s Sally Draper – on the dub). In many ways she’s Anna’s opposite: warm, confident and expressive, though the two share the same piercing blue eyes and ambivalent feelings about their parents. Anna’s died when she was very young, while Marnie’s busy themselves with lavish parties, leaving their daughter’s upbringing to their cruel below-stairs staff. 
They strike up a friendship which quickly blooms into something resembling a chaste but passionate romance: each girl’s sorrows somehow make sense of the other’s, and every evening, Anna follows the siren call of the strange house across the marsh. While it’s clear Marnie’s not of this world, exactly, she’s not wholly imaginary either. Her name, of course, summons up the spirit of Hitchcock – and there are notes of his film Rebecca, and perhaps also Susan Hill’s The Woman in Black, in the swirling, gently gothic mystery that surrounds her.
“Every love story is a ghost story”, David Foster Wallace once observed, and that line would serve as a perfect epigraph to Yonebayashi’s film – not least because working out exactly what kind of tale it’s weaving is all part of its tender, whisper-delicate charm. To give away the precise nature of the girls’ relationship here would be cheap, but the epilogue should have you sobbing into your sleeve.
As this is Ghibli’s final film, it’s surely no accident that Anna is a keen artist: she carries her sketchpad everywhere, and even her name echoes the first two syllables of Ghibli’s trade. Her relationship with Marnie inspires and improves her work, but it also seems to draw out her surroundings’ own quietly extraordinary beauty.
That’s what Ghibli’s films have always done – they sweep over you like summer showers, and leave the world seeming brighter and refreshed. It makes perfect sense for the studio to end their extraordinary, three-decade run with a film about that feeling. It’s why we’ll miss them.

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