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Review: Studio Ghibli's 'When Marnie Was There'

Written by sdsichero on Sunday, April 19 2015 and posted in Reviews

Review: Studio Ghibli's 'When Marnie Was There'

A memory that you should experience.

When Marnie Was There, or Omoide no Marnie (Marnie of the Memories) in Japanese, is an animated film by Studio Ghibli first released in Japan on July 19, 2014. The film is directed by Hiromase Yonebayashi (The Secret World of Arrietty) with a story based on the 1967 British novel "When Marnie Was There" by Joan G. Robinson.


The film centers on an artistic 12-year-old Anna Sasaki, who seems to be angry and detached from her school mates and even her (foster) parents. After sufferring a bad asthma attack, she was sent to stay with her uncle and auntie in the country where the air is clean for the Summer, on the advice of her doctor. One day when out sketching, she discovers an old mansion near a marsh that she is strongly attracted to. The mansion becomes something of an obsession to Anna, after she experiences dreams about the mansion and a young girl who lives there.

After an outburst during the yearly evening Tanabaata festival, Anna once again retreats to the marsh. There she meets the young girl she she saw in her dreams: Marnie. Marnies knows Anna and they immediately hit if off, promising to keep knowing one another a secret. Anna and Marnie meet several times, Marnie even bringing Anna into the mansion during a party.

During a later trip to the mansion, it appears old and dilapidated again, like when Anna first visited it. While out on a sketch, she meets an older lady named Hisako, who tells Anna she knew of a Marnie from long ago, and that they are renovating mansion of its new occupants. Anna goes to the mansion and meets another young girl who is staying in the room Marnie occupied, named Sayaka. Sayaka thinks that Anna is Anna is Marnie and was coming back to the mansion to retrieve her diary which is missing some of its pages. This propels them to discover the secret of the mysterious Marnie.


I viewed this movie as part of the Hawai‘i International Film Festival. It was in Japanese with English subtitles. Not being high-fantasy, and looking more like a slice-of-life film (like From Up On Poppy Hill), I didn't pay too much attention to reports or reviews of this film. However, since this may be the last Studio Ghibli film, and even an average Ghibli film is pretty good, I thought I should see this. The result was a pleasant surprise.

Though it wasn't too fantastical, there was enough interesting, and enough mystery (though you can probably figure out what will happen) to keep the movie entertaining. Though Anna comes off as somewhat unlikeable, there is the thought that perhaps she might actually have a mental illness which makes it even more interesting. The connection between Anna and Marnie comes off a bit too strongly at times, but one can imagine that a person who feels so angry and isolated from the world may have strong feelings when meeting someone she connects with. That's a small conceit to get over though, and in the end it makes sense and has an emotionally satisfying conclusion. One cultural note, and kind of a tell if you know Japanese culture, is the Tanabata festival. Tanabata is celebrated in Japan and is held on the one day of the year when two legendary lovers are allowed to meet having a bridge available to cross the Milky Way. Not a literal element, there is a thematic symbolism to it.

Saying the animation is superb in a Ghibli film is not uncommon. However, for some reason, I found the animation in this film moreso compared to some of the other Ghibli films. If you have ever visited Japan, you would feel at home watching this, from seeing the sleepy bullet train traveler to the stores in the city and the country. The attention to detail is wonderful, and though not photorealistic, really helps to let the viewer immerse themselves in the world. There are a lot of familiar Ghibli elements: the big grassy areas, the Summer that propels the protagonist into an adventure, and the town near the sea. Those who watched Hayao Miyazaki's The Wind Rises, will find the image of Hisako painting strikingly similar to the image of Nahoko painting atop a grassy hill. Also, as with most Ghibli films, there are several side characters that have little screentime, but fill that time with character and charm.

In short, I found When Marnie Was There to be interesting, satisfying, and beautiful to look at. If this is indeed the final Sudio Ghibli film, while that would be a damn shame, it would be a good memory.

The Hawai‘i International Film Festival "When Marnie Was There" page:

GKids distributor page:

Trailer (in Japanese):



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About the Author - sdsichero

Sdsichero is Asian and he likes anime. He should write more articles.






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