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This is the blog of Ian Rosales Casocot. Filipino writer. Sometime academic. Former backpacker. Twink bait. Hamster lover.


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Monday, April 13, 2015

entry arrow1:48 AM | Alone is Not Lonely



Hiromasa Yonebayashi's When Marnie Was There (2014) -- which might be the last offering we get from legendary Studio Ghibli, which has announced a "temporary" stoppage to film production -- is a wonderful, albeit small, film. It is a dialling back from the epic reaches of Hayao Miyazaki's The Wind Rises (2013) and Isao Takahata's The Tale of Princess Kaguya (2013), and which actually has much in common, spiritually speaking, with Takahata's Only Yesterday (1991).

Like that film, we follow a female protagonist in an almost accidental search for self in serene, laid-back Japanese countryside. In Marnie's case, however, we get not a mature woman but a socially awkward pubescent orphan named Anna, who would rather be alone and draw in her sketch book than deal with the curious interactions of other people. Life for Anna is compromised and painful, but then she meets Marnie in a seemingly abandoned mansion by the marsh. The blond young girl is gregarious and enchanting, and becomes Anna's first real friend -- but is she real, or is she a ghost? Or worse, is she merely the imagined projection of Anna's tortured wishes for a connection?



There are all these twists in the plot, borrowed from the book by Joan G. Robinson, but the whimsy of their unfolding, while interesting and beautifully rendered in animation in that signature Studio Ghibli eye for sparkling detail and minute movements, is not what hooked me. I was prepared to pronounce this as Studio Ghibli's subtle nod towards queer representation -- the relationship between Anna and Marnie skirts towards levels of intimacy that cannot be just friendship -- but its final turn somehow nullifies that possible reading, much to my disappointment. As is, the film's choices and conclusion become too much of a comfortable cliche in terms of a narrative twist. But then again we cannot fault a film for not becoming what it does not set out to be.



But I like the film. I like its quiet moments, those scenes where Anna longs to get lost in the woods or in the middle of a lake, with only herself as company. It reminded me of my own childhood, where my nightmares were all about having to deal with other people, and the true antidote to all that sociable connecteness was being alone, entertaining myself with my little games, or reading, or sketching the afternoons away in a kind of daydream. Being alone was less lonely than being in the middle of a crowd. I was Anna.

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