This latest film in the "last of Studio Ghibli" films is from the director of The Secret World of Arriety, the delightful film of a young woman's encounter with tiny people, Hiromasa Yonebayashi and has much of the same poignancy and subtlety—the kind that you're almost surprised to encounter in what might be a very pedestrian or even boring story.
Almost surprised, of course, because it's Ghibli, which means it follows an aesthetic logic that transcends traditional storytelling rules.
The story is about an orphan girl, Anna, who is sent out to the country to live with some friends of her foster mother, because she has asthma and that's what doctors did to kids with asthma long ago: Sent them other places.
She's an irritable, moody girl, self-involved and prickly. Not like Spirited Away's Chihiro, really, who was just kind of a brat, but more feeling like life is kicking her when she's down—something we might be willing to grant an asthmatic orphan. While unable to make friends at school, or perhaps more accurately, she's unwilling to make friends and more likely to alienate the ones who try to befriend her, she finds an instant fast friend in the form of Marnie, a beautiful blonde girl who lives in the mansion across the marsh.
Now, I've been around the block a few times, cinematically speaking, and I can honestly say, I had pretty much resolved the entire plot in my head within the first 15-20 minutes. And yet despite that the measured plot reveal was just so, enough to genuinely move me by the end of the film. Perhaps because the details, which are really unknowable early on, end up being rich and deep when they're finally revealed.
It's based on an English book by Joan Robinson, but if it's like any of their other adaptations, it probably bears resemblance only in tone and atmosphere, with very broad story points hit. I could see being annoyed if you were a fan of the book, but I actually think I prefer that to "Well, here's an adaptation that's only going to screw up the most imporant points." Or, especially, "Well, this is based on the world the author created, only with more explosions." (*kaff*Peter Jackson*kaff*)
The Boy really liked it. The Flower loved it, though she wants to see it again dubbed (we saw it subtitled) because she wants to look more at the artistry of it. It's funny, but to my eye, the Ghibli stuff gets prettier and more sophisticated each time out in terms of background and general movements, while maintaining the traditional half-animation for the characters.
Part ghost story, part love story, part tragedy, Yonnebayashi has done a truly fine job and given Ghibli a good closing note, if this truly is to be their last film.