Four years ago, Hiromasa Yonebayashi cut his teeth and made his mark as the youngest director to helm a Studio Ghibli animation with his adaptation of Mary Norton’s The Borrowers, . His sophomore effort sees him take on another British novel in the form of Joan G Robinson’s book of the same title, and it is just as charming and creative as his debut feature.
We meet young Anna (voiced by Hailee Steinfeld in the dubbed version) as she sits by the side of a busy playground sketching and thinking to herself about how she doesn’t seem to fit in. She’s a foster child searching for answers regarding her past, and when her guardian sends her off to Kushiro and away from the city for the summer, she delves into an imaginary world set in the past, where she meets a girl named Marnie, who offers her solace and friendship.
This coming-of-age tale deals with abandonment issues in a thoughtful way, allowing Anna to go through a multitude of emotions – including anger and resentment – without ever passing judgement. The kind-hearted couple who Anna stays with in Kushiro show unconditional love, but are cheeky with it too. John C Reilly, who voices one of her guardians, brings real personality to his role as he jokes about and makes up stories to amuse Anna. There’s a wacky and welcome sense of humour among the serious story.
Particularly pleasing is the way in which the relationship between Anna and Marnie is written. There’s a deep poignancy in their interactions as they get acquainted. Marnie’s physical appearance resembles Lewis Carroll’s protagonist in Alice In Wonderland, which adds to the surreal and ghostly ambience that surrounds the two girls as they paddle through the water surrounding a grand mansion on their rowboat. Issues regarding the mistreatment of children are also sensitively addressed through the character of Marnie.
This perilous trail through the trickle-down effect of neglectful behaviour ends on a hopeful note, and is enchanting from start to finish.