When Marnie Was There


I went to see When Marnie Was There yesterday. I knew absolutely nothing about the plot, but as a committed Ghibli fan, went in eager to be surprised. And yeah, in terms of genre, When Marnie Was There did have an intriguing surprise for me.

Spoilers below fold…

To the best of my knowledge (I am still missing a few of their films) When Marnie Was There is Ghibli’s first ghost story. The studio has shown us nature spirits in Princess Mononoke and Spirited Away, of course, and Grave of the Fireflies used ghosts as a prominent visual motif, but Marnie is the first to revolve around the spirit of a departed human: Marnie is eventually revealed to be protagonist Anna’s deceased grandmother.

Whether or not Marnie is a literal supernatural entity is left ambiguous. I interpreted her as ultimately a construct of Anna’s imagination, inspired by suppressed memories of her grandmother from early childhood. I did not feel that the film encouraged a supernatural reading, although I wold be interested to find out of other viewers interpreted the story differently.

From The Castle of Otranto to The Shining, many of the best ghost stories play on the idea of the ghost as memory. This is one of two main approaches to the genre, the other being the portrayal of the ghost as an essentially unknowable entity: M. R. James favoured this tack. Even if When Marnie Was There does not involve a literal spirit, it fits into a venerable old ghost story tradition. I’ll have to track down the source novel by Joan G. Robinson, to see how it approaches its subject matter…

I also found this at the cinema lobby. Thought it was rather sweet – a puzzle flier for the kids:

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