Thursday, June 11, 2015

Editorial: When Marnie Was There & Silent Hills


This weekend, I took a trip down to Center City Philadelphia to see When Marnie Was There, the latest anime film by Studio Ghibli.  Limited-release films like these tend to be a bit... geographically undesireable how far away I live, but the way I figured, it might be my last chance to ses a Studio Ghibli movie on the big screen, so I took the plunge.  See, as anyone with an interest in Studio Ghibli knows, this is their last movie to be released as the studio shuts down on an "indeterminate hiatus", following the retirement of its star director, Hayao Miyazaki.  Even Marnie's review in the Philadelphia Inquirer discussed it in the context of those circumstances.  So with the knowledge that this may be Ghibli's last impression, my sentiments toward the company might cloud me from giving an objective opinion on Marnie.  Plus, I don't normally indulge in full reviews for films I only saw in theatres once, so I'll do what I did with The Wind Rises the first time around and embellish this here editorial with a mini-review.

The plot follows a pattern shared with a number of Studio Ghibli movies, with occasional variations: A girl moves out to the countryside and then (frequently supernatural) stuff happens.  Off the top of my head, I recognise this framework from My Neighbour Totoro, Kiki's Delivery Service (although the girl moves to the city), Spirited Away, The Secret World of Arietty (although the girl is instead a boy), and the film on hand.  But that's not a bad thing per se, as often these movies develop an identity of their own as they move along.  In this case, the girl is a blue-eyed preteen named Anna.  While out one day wandering about her new neighbourhood, her eye catches on a mansion on the other side of a marsh, and on a blonde-haired girl in the upstairs window, the titular Marnie.  One night she sneaks out to meet Marnie in person, and the two strike up a friendship in no time flat.

The film does a great job of establishing how completely broken Anna is on her own, and how Marnie fills in the missing pieces of her psyche.  To make one of my many Evangelion allegories, Anna is like Shinji, and Marnie is like Kaworu Nagisa, the only person in her life willing to provide her with unconditional affection.  And what other connection is there between Marnie and the Shinji/Kaworu episode?  "Both parties are the same gender?"  That's right!  I don't know about you, but when I saw the trailer for this movie, I wondered if the Anna/Marnie relationship would be of a lesbian nature.  And I'd have been alright with that; proud, even, because of how sensibly mature the movie treats their interactions.  But in truth, the nature of their relationship is strictly platonic.  Which is also nice; I mean, can't two people of the same gender have a deep friendship without other people bringing it into homosexual territory?  ...Not that's a bad thing...  Don't worry, I meant less offence than you probably took that as (unless it was zero to start with).

But more than anything, Marnie feels real, supernatural elements notwithstanding.  It touches on a number of real-world troubles in varying capacity, such as adopted children, bullying in the family, and even xenophobia.  Remember when I said Anna had blue eyes?  Yeah, that's a plot point.  Some plot elements are a bit out of place and fail to go anywhere, like when Marnie and one of her peers lash out at each other at the Tanabata festival.  But that's about it.  I even cried while watching this movie!  ...Okay, not really; I don't cry that easily, more like I got misty-eyed.  Yeah, I got misty-eyed.  How many films can I make that boast about?  On more levels than one, When Marnie Was There is one such film.  And for that honour, I shall bestow upon it a tentative grade of 95% (A) and a Dragon Award.




So now that the review is over, let's get back to the topic at hand: When Marnie Was There is potentially the final feature film to be made by Studio Ghibli. This is a worrisome situation because Ghibli has been a heretofore never-ending force of good in the animation world. (Bear in mind, I make that statement not yet having seen Tales of Earthsea.)  Seriously, a great chunk of their works have been nominated for the Best Animated Feature Academy Award since that category was created.  Of course, only one of them actually won, but that's a different crisis altogether.  But with Studio Ghibli gone, who's going to pick up the mantle of making critically acclaimed anime films?  Or does the next big thing in animation even have to be Japanese?  There's this one director I've started following recently, named Tomm Moore, and I've read his output as being likened to an Irish counterpart of Studio Ghibli's.  Although relatively new to the scene, both of his works The Secret of Kells (2009) and Song of the Sea (2014) are distincly awesome.  They were also nominated for the aforementioned Oscar; of course they didn't win either, because the jurors involve are just fff... Philistines.  (I have to admit that joke works better when you hear rather than read it.  Still, last-second word swaps FTW!)

But looking back on this whole affair brings to mind a certain... other event I've obsessed over lately, involving the cancellation of a certain long-hoped-for video game.  "Gee Kevin", you may be thinking, "how many articles are you gonna write about Mega Man Legends 3?"

No, you idiot, the other one!

I'm talking about Silent Hills, the would-be reboot of the survival-horror franchise Silent Hill, collaborated upon with Metal Gear creator Hideo Kojima, film director Guillermo del Toro, and actor Norman Reedus.  Actually, there are a number of similarities between the circumstances of the two games.  Both were being led by a high-profile director (Mega Man creator Keiji Inafune for MML3) before they left their respective companies.  Both stood to revitalise series which hadn't been relevant in years.  Both had a preview or demo version which is not available anymore, if at all (Legends 3 Prototype and P.T.).  And both happened to have been followed up by Kickstarter projects seeking to bring a new games based on their companies' good old days.  (Okay, so Castlevania creator Koji Igarashi wasn't actually involved in Silent Hills, but shut up, I've got a good theme going.)  Is this the future of the games industry?  Or is this all just a coincidence?  Heck if I know.

Now, I didn't have the same emotional investment for Silent Hills as I did for MML3; at the moment I've only played a bit of the first Silent Hill game (PSone, 1999), and I've heard good things about Silent Hill 2 (PS2, 2001).  (Seriously, on the rare occasions when Yahtzee recommends a game, he's never steered me wrong.)  I am aware, however, of how the Silent Hill franchise, as well as the survival-horror genre in macrocosm, have lost sight of the subtleties that made it so effective way back when.  And given the series' track record, maybe Silent Hills would have reversed its course back in a positive direction, or maybe it wouldn't have.  But man, it would've been great if it did.  It might even have brought new fans on board, including yours truly.  As it stands, I may not have been on board with the whole Silent Hills thing, but y'all have my sympathies.

So what was the point of this diversionary anecdote, other than to provide my two cents on the issue?  Well, the moral to draw from both those stories is that we should support independent works of media.  You won't see the big American animation studios doing a hand-drawn character drama, and you won't see the big Japanese video game studios reviving the styles of games which made them famous back in the day.  I mean, even though Mighty No.9 may not be the ideal replacement for Legends 3, I'd still give my money to its independent makers than to Capcom.  And now that the World Wide Web and social media are things, we the people have the power to give these low-profile works the attention they deserve.  I mean it when I say...

This is IchigoRyu.

You are the resistance.