I Studio Ghibli has been the darling of the animation industry as well as the Japanese box office for decades. Even when their films aren't all that great (like Pom Poko, Whisper of the Heart, Earthsea, and The Wind Rises) they still make mad amounts of money, and are typically among the highest grossing films of the year in Japan. People usually talk about Ghibli movies for months, if not years before their releases, and this usually gets me excited about them long before I can actually see them either as official or unofficial translations half a world away.
When Marnie Was There is a Ghibli flick (by the director of Arrietty) that apparently came out last year in Japan, and was just recently released on Blu-ray in the Land of the Rising Sun, which I had not even heard of before the home video of it became available. I was shocked. I was also astonished by how strange the whole film was too. No, it wasn't bad, it was just a very interesting new direction for the House of Totoro.
When Marnie Was There starts out like any other "pre-teen with issues" story, especially one taking place in modern Japan. Our protagonist (one 12 year-old girl named Anna) lives in Sapporo with her mother (and her father who is "away on business," as all Japanese fathers are), and suffers from a debilitating fear of talking to people and making friends, which causes her to collapse in fits of asthma whenever people approach her.
Her concerned mother sends Anna away to stay with some distant relatives for the summer who live in a tiny seaside town where the air is clean, the people are all friendly, and everything is awesome... Except Anna is kind of a little bitch and insults some potential friends (calling one a "fat pig" and then running from them for the rest of the summer) and ignores almost everybody else who even shows the slightest bit of interest in befriending our little cu.... our little lead character.
Strangely enough though, Anna does make acquaintances with a blonde girl her age who lives in a mansion on the other side of a large marsh right off the coast. This blonde girl, Marnie, seems to have a fantastic life going on (her mansion is amazing, her parents love her and throw crazy, wild parties all the time where everybody dresses in 1950s fashion, and she always has two maids looking after her), but Anna begins to realize that something is wrong... Well, seeing as she's pretty fucking slow and needs things to be explained to her with no uncertainties in order to understand them, eventually she begins to realize that something is wrong.
(Seriously, I recommend you see this movie without reading anything else that I or anybody says about it, 'cause I just know that everybody else will spoil the rest of the movie for you with their opening paragraph because they're assholes.)
So it turns out that Marnie is a ghost, or a memory given form that lives in the (actually quite dilapidated) mansion that Anna finds. It's pretty obvious after just a little while that this is the case, or Anna is somehow time-slipping into the past (or being spirited away), but Anna doesn't seem to catch on for quite a while, even with all the hints about the changes in the mansion's appearance whenever she meets Marnie, or the conversations with townsfolk where nobody else seems to know about the rich family with the (actually neglected and forgotten) blonde daughter living just outside of the town, and the mysterious fainting (and waking up in different places) spells that overcome her whenever Anna's with Marnie.
Anna eventually catches on and just accepts this as fact (that her friend is a ghost), but she continues to chase after Marnie as if she's the Cocoa Puffs bird haunted by the flavor and texture of those delicious brown pellets of sugar that are the only things that can satisfy her cravings and keep her from going COOCOO. From here, it becomes a very strange movie wherein at one point I paused it, turned to Cupcake and said, "Is this turning into a young lesbian story?... Not that there's anything wrong with that, just that I can't believe that Disney would actually release it Stateside if it ends up that way." Seriously, the way that Anna pines for Marnie, and longs to be with her, and how she gets upset with her when she appears to be abandoned by the blonde gaijin-looking girl totally gave me flashbacks to my first unrequited crush. You just want to slap Anna like your younger self and say, "Get over it!"
Anyway, a few more things happen, and Anna has some sort of (very late) revelation about her time with Marnie and the knowledge of Marnie's mistakes and problems after the two are separated (I won't even touch these spoilers, sorry, Mandy Patinkin), and then she comes to terms with the fact that she's been acting like a royal twat to everybody in her life up till that point, and she makes an effort to change.
That shouldn't come as any real surprise to you.
All in all this was a very light, but very entertaining flick. Preteens going through "oh whoa is me" moments in their life will probably get the most out of this story, but only if their parents aren't prudish Southern Baptists who'd freak out over the idea of a "satanic ghost story" with possible lessssssbian undertones. Good times.
I saw a ghost once. Fuck you, bitches, that shit was for reals! I was with this Wonder-bread white boy I knew, and we was all like, "Oh no! A haunted house down by the abandoned warehouse district!.... We GOTS ta check this fucka out!"
So white-Urkel and I went down one night with only the slightest of a sliver of the moon in the sky, we snuck into the front hall, right through the main door, and we heard somethin'. There was some bitch cryin' and moanin' about her "beloved" or somesuch shit being missing, and how she just wanted him back. I saw the bitch at the top of the stairway, on the other side of the big, fancy chandelier so's that we couldn't see her too well. Then she started gettin' all female time of the month, and she started spittin' out obscenities at her missin' man, and then the bitch started rantin' about how she murdered the foo'!
That's when I left. My white friend laughed at me as I ran out of that shit house from hell, but I was laughing three days later when they found white-Urkel's frozen-in-a-scream, long-decaying body impaled on the chicken weather vain on top of that poltergeist-infested, 1920s-styled mansion from Hades.
Ghosts be real, and I won't go near 'em or even watch shit with them in it. That's how you draws attention to them.
When there's something weird in the neighborhood, who ya gonna call? Studio Ghibli!
I like all of Studio Ghibli's stuff, even My Neighbors the Yamadas, so of course I'd dig this shit. Ghost story, pig story, witch story, it ain't no thang to me. If Ghibli put out a movie about a talking paper crane I'd watch that shit for 2 hours, then I'd go online and praise its beauty and simplicity, and especially the way they played up the jokes about the paper shredder, and the terror of the evil business accountant who tries to capture the paper crane because it was folded using a magical check that was made out for like ¥10,000,000, and if he doesn't get it back he's getting fired! I'd even buy the T-shirt and the tie-in paper crane toys.