Theological: 2 (Tanabata festival at a Shinto shrine is depicted)
Other: 3 (for some drinking and smoking by adults, Anna at one point accidentally drinks some wine, but she doesn't like it)
Just saw the latest Studio Ghibli movie in Japanese yesterday, no subtitles. It's the second outing by Yonebayashi who previously directed Arrietty, and it has some similarities on the surface: a sickly kid gets sent to stay out in the countryside to "take the air." But other than that it's quite different. It's all young girls, and there is no romance factor (and thank goodness, no hint of yuri that I could detect).
Anna is a young girl who clearly has "issues." What those are exactly, I am still uncertain about, but regardless, she doesn't interact well with anyone in her life. It's a pretty good pre-teen angst setup here. It would seem her mother isn't really her mother (adopted? fostered? either would be an unusual situation in Japan) and she feels like she's a burden on those around her. Every time she opens her mouth, she says the wrong thing and she has no friends. She is sent from Sapporo (the biggest city on Hokkaido, the large island to the north of Japan) out to a remote coastal town where she stays with some kindly relatives (or maybe they are being paid to keep her) in their lovely little cottage where she has a view of the bay from her porch. A few abortive attempts at making some local friends backfire and she continues to hang out mostly by herself.
But the meat of the story takes place when she meets a mysterious girl living in a huge mansion across the bay. The titular Marnie is the daughter of wealthy socialite parents who seems to be trapped in an unhappy home life. Nonetheless she is vivacious and outgoing and she befriends Anna instantly, dragging her into some awkward situations that Anna would probably have avoided like the plague. The development of their friendship takes up the bulk of the movie.
Eventually, both girl's secrets come out, and thankfully I'll have something to surprise me when I watch it again some day with subtitles, as I was not quite sure I understood everything that happened. By the end of the movie, Anna has changed for the positive, though it is not without some bittersweet notes.
Despite it being clear that something not "normal" is going on with Anna and Marnie, there is no creepiness factor, no supernatural or fantastical elements to be seen. Some may criticize the movie for this, as many will compare this to typical MIyazaki fare as lacking in that department, but I didn't miss it. Then again I liked Poppy Hill and many thought it was boring. Marnie is in many ways a straightforward movie, lacking in layers and symbolism, but it works for what it's trying to do, which is tell a story about a struggling pre-teen girl's healing through friendship, going from feeling crushing isolation to knowing and being known, allowing her to open up to others in her life once she feels secure in the love of another.
The animation is excellent as one would expect from Studio Ghibli, the setting in Hokkaido is gorgeous (did I mention it's my favorite place in Japan so far?), the side characters are interesting and quirky, and the music is lovely. The end credits song by Priscilla Ahn (first time the ending song for a Studio Ghibli movie is being written and sung in English only) titled "Fine on the Outside" carries the mood of the beginning of the movie nicely. Apparently she wrote it in highschool and it bears all that angst and isolation that many of us do not miss from that time. I recommend picking it up immediately from iTunes where the entire soundtrack is available if you want to spend $20 on it. The song itself is the usual .99c.
Overall I was very pleased with Omoide no Marnie and I hope this predicts well for the future of a Miyazaki-less Studio Ghibli. Well done Yonebayashi!