r#87 – when marnie was there

Omoide no Marnie is based on Joan G. Robinson’s English children’s classic novel which titled the same, When Marnie Was There. When I first saw the trailer, I never doubt that it’s a wonderful movie to watch, and it’s from Ghibli, which means the animation and the music are guaranteed good. It’s directed by Hiromasa Yonebayashi-sensei as well, which the assistant animation director for Tales from Earthsea, the one who held the key animation for Serial Experiments Lain, Monster, and Spirited Away, he’s also directed The Secret World of Arrietty, and even known as the director for the last year movie hype Mary and the Witch’s Flower. Really, this guy is amazing, and that’s why this movie also could be amazing as well.

But as you know, I’m the kind of person who pretty critical about how the characters tell their story, sometimes a little bit exaggerate or awkward moments is just enough to make me turns off my TV screen. But it’s a Ghibli movie anyway, so what could be wrong? In the end, I found myself getting ready to be swept away by the tide; I watched this movie together with my friend Brogan (shout out to her) and I believe she’s crying at the end. Anyway, let’s get to my review


Starting with the synopsis. The movie tells about Anna Sasaki, a middle schooler who loves to draw everything that interests her. She grew up in foster care and has always been both sickly and prone to severe social anxiety. After she realizes that her asthma is getting worse, her stepmother has Anna to spend time with some of their relatives in a small coastal town in northern Japan. She’s already having a hard time making friends since the beginning, and visiting a countryside makes no different for her. But the first day she gets there after she sends a letter in the post office, she wanders into a salt marsh at low tide and maybe looking for places to draw, she comes across what looks like an abandoned vacation villa that is later known as the Marsh House. Since then, she keeps seeing a girl every time she dreams in her sleep.

Out of curiosity, she comes back the next day to the Marsh House only to meet a cheerful girl named Marnie who dresses in strange clothes and claims to live in that Marsh House. Marnie suddenly makes her reality upside down, remembering that Marnie is the girl who always appears in her dreams. Even though she’s not really sure about who or what Marnie really is, Anna quickly took in by Marnie openness and starts to think of Marnie as her first real friend.

So yeah, this is a story about a misfit young girl, a foster child who has asthma. Her doctor suggests if she could spend some time in an environment with cleaner air, and that’s why she then spends her summer in a coastal town where she develops this friendship with Marnie. She’s forced to stay with the old Mr and Mrs Pegg, where she runs wild on the sand dunes and around the water. While she comes each day to the Marsh House and goes home at night, one day she notices that a new family that later known as the Lindsay is moving into the Marsh House. So while having learnt so much from Marnie about friendship, she makes firm friends with the Lindsays as the strange mysteries about Marnie begins to peel off.


The movie is nominated for the Animation of the Year at the 38th Japan Academy Prize Awards and Best Animated Feature Film at the Asia Pacific Screen Awards in 2015. At the same year, the movie won an award for the Best Animated Feature Film at the Chicago International Children’s Film Festival. Other nominations include the Best Animated Feature (as an independent film) at the 43rd Annual Annie Awards and Academy Award for the Best Animated Feature at the 88th Academy Awards.

As I said before, I never doubt that When Marnie Was There is a wonderful movie to watch even though I understand that the story is adapted from a children’s book, which it makes me would never expect a plot twist that is too sadden to be understood by children. But hidden in the background, the movie also delivers an evaluation of an introvert girl who has no friends, surprisingly this children story tells about an insecure someone who’s looking for a place in her life to live in. If you go to the MAL page of this movie, they advertise it as a young girl’s journey through self-discovery and friendship, and that is exactly what the movie is.

Maybe the first in a long time, a movie from Ghibli which presented modern issues in front. I mean, we all already know that their movies deliver positive messages even though oftentimes it’s hidden behind or they put it so subtly. Then this movie came, and suddenly there is a protagonist who’s dealing with real problems and modern issues; one in particular is anxiety and loneliness that has been experiencing by so many teenagers these times. When Marnie Was there has already started a good run when it picks a young girl’s problems that the audience can truly understand. But because of that, you pretty much will less be enjoying this if what you experienced in real life is different than the protagonist experiencing here. So, this is the kind of movie which can get sad if you can relate to the characters, or just appreciate the good moving pictures if you can’t relate to.


The story is beautiful, there are no a sad ending or a happy ending; it’s just beautiful. Yes, the visual helped this movie to makes everything so meaningful to watch, but the story itself is also beautiful as well. It’s a tale about a mysterious friend you can’t easily ignore, whether she’s an imaginary ghost or a real person, a friend is a friend. They told the story very well even though it’s not how I expected. The fact that every time we encounter a story like this, about a loneliness character who can’t find a place in society and everything, oftentimes it’s followed by disturbing scene or situation which can describe how desperate our character is; bullying at school and parents problems for examples. Here they didn’t do that, they stick with a more beautiful side of the story instead.

In this world, there’s an invisible magic circle. There’s inside and outside; these people are inside, and I’m outside. I … I hate myself.

— Anna.

The first scene opens with Anna’s voice being a narrator for herself, telling that she’s all alone in this world. So there’s only one short scene in the beginning that slightly described Anna’s situation being an introvert, and because of that, people who aren’t relatable with Anna’s character intend to question more of her backstory. Of course, this is a movie and not a TV series, I understand there’s a limit of what they can show in the short duration of two hours, but we also know there are some movies that are succeeded to grow the character’s background story to an amazing degree, Koe no Katachi for example. Or the fact that the original story is adapted from a children’s book, maybe that’s why they weren’t showing too much about the reason of how could Anna dealing with these issues of loneliness.

Anyway, I just disappointed that the movie does not explore that topic quite enough, considering that Anna being lonely is one theme that pushed the most in the movie trailers, one reason of why I attracted to watch this movie. But then I didn’t see enough of that in the actual movie, so yeah; it’s quite disappointing me. Unfortunately, there has no explanation as well for the loose connection to reality necessitated by an extended ghost story; so the same as the background story of Anna’s character, here you’re also asked to suspend your critical thinking while the story unfolds. While the movie explains everything gradually in the end, but I just think that it could be more pleasant to watch if the backstory is explained in the beginning. The problem is that if all the background story is explained already, there would be no more mystery to explore and that’s kind of the movie is all about. So yeah, dilemma and dilemma; one complication this movie couldn’t clear up.

When Marnie Was There is a tale of lost memories, being isolated from society because you are so different, a tale about step-parents who care for you to only earn money from it. It’s definitely a worthy tale to be told, but there are just too many things that were going on with Anna’s life for such a short moment as in the movie, and that’s probably why it couldn’t touch every aspect of it and grow the story from there.

Everything is beautifully executed other than the backstories that are kept untold, from the beginning till the end; from the first time Anna meets the blonde-haired Marnie and makes friends over the summer, until both of them separated by the destiny of time. That one complication is not a fatal flaw anyway, it can easily be ignored by people who have sucked to Anna’s character and personality since the beginning, or you can do rewatch the movie and try to pull threads for the second time to makes the whole plot structured well enough. There are no points that are bad in this movie, I just think it could be better if … but not bad, and that’s why I still see this as a beautiful story.


Even though the movie feels to push the audience to cry, When Marnie Was There actually isn’t a sad movie to watch. But it’s dreamy and sombre, some melancholic scenes could make you cry if your life is related to Anna’s life. For whatever reason, anxiety that Anna has really does resonate with every kid who has it for themselves, and I’ll bet watching Anna drawing when she’s alone has reminded you of your past. I notice a lot of people does the same; people who struggled through school, feeling nervous and doesn’t have a lot of friends, or physically ill just like Anna. And that’s the main reason why this movie has been accepted by a lot of people, it’s because Anna’s character has makes the audience remember about their past, trying to relate with Anna’s character is the easiest thing to do when you watch this movie.

One example is during the opening scene when Anna stops herself from showing her teacher a really good drawing she’s done, maybe because the low opinion she usually get every time she comes out of her shell; so a moment after she spends a lot of mental energy shoring herself up to show someone what she could do, a second after she lends her drawing to the outside world, the teacher gets distracted by a bunch of noisy and misbehaving kids, only to leave her behind to sulk. This … this is one scene that we often see in our dream, maybe the object is not a drawing and the person we’re trying to make understand is not a teacher, but we could easily relate to this scene as if it’s a thing that represents our anxiety, having an antisocial disorder or being an introvert. It’s an example of people like me who wants to be noticed and saved from their loneliness. Same goes to Anna’s nature as she acts defensively and lashes out when she’s under stress, which happens to a lot of people who are dealing with this kind of stuff. Little by little and eventually, we live inside Anna’s character when we watch this movie.

Which bring us to Marnie, a girl who seems to give Anna everything she wants but never gets when she tries to make friends with other people. Marnie is a perfect kind of friend, she’s someone who can ask you a million questions and we’re happy to tell everything about yourself, she’s the kind of person who can make us get out of our shell without feeling being judging or making yourself uncomfortable. One thing that I really proud of this character is that the movie could make us to not questions whether Marnie is real or not; one time Anna said that she doesn’t care whether Marnie is real or just her imaginary friend, she will stay being friends with Marnie … and suddenly I don’t care as well whether Marnie is real or not, their friendship is just beautiful to watch.

visual and arts.

For the animation standpoint, it’s amazing as you have guessed. It’s a movie from Ghibli, so you have nothing to lose if you decided to watch this to only see its amazing visual and animation. A little bit of CGI really help for the background scenery, the shading and lighting effects also done beautifully. Hiromasa Yonebayashi-sensei already used to fill the spot as the key animation holder, so him being the director of this movie is a plus point for its animation. It’s not perfect, of course there are some flaws and jumpiness in some movements, but it’s still beautiful and good at showing the characters’ facial expressions. Shout out also to Masashi Andou who did the character design because I’m so in love with Anna’s character design, especially her short hair and her really cute face.

For the soundtrack, it’s also beautifully done especially for the ending theme, a music titled “Fine on the Outside” by Priscilla Ahn, which the lyrics are really characterized Anna’s character. For the voice actors though, I noticed some too old voice for the younger characters, especially Anna’s new friends in this new town. Same goes for Marnie, which at first I thought it’s just because she’s having a foreign accent, but as the movie goes and I heard her voice over and over again, I noticed that her voice sometimes sounds weird especially when she laughs, which quite awkward and trying to hide that the voice is older as it should be. Maybe that’s the reason why the emotional core of the story is delivered by Anna’s character alone.

To be noted; I was watching the Japanese version and not the dubbed one. Maybe —I don’t know— the English version is better.

closing – nesha’s final verdict.

Being an anxious person doesn’t make this movie in particular melted my heart and made me cry, but I believe that I need more poignant and melancholic movies like this to spoil my weak heart.

I do give this movie a seven grade out of ten, not because the movie is average, the movie not even bad at all, the story is not mainstream at all … it’s because I see some way of it could be more fired and probably melting my heart and makes me cry. For the examples, maybe by giving more time to build Anna’s character and showing the audience how bad Anna has shelter herself from the world around her will makes her character more relatable, or maybe by giving Anna a confidence to believe that Marnie is real and later on find out that Marnie is something else will add more ‘punch’ to the story, giving Anna a throwback to cry out when the plot twist happens. Forgot to mention, the plot twist in the end is pretty much predictable despite how beautiful the story is.

At the end, When Marnie Was There is still a beautiful movie to watch. It’s not a yuri kind of story, yet their relationship is not just limited to friends; it’s a good psychodrama to watch. I can understand if some people will think that Anna is too melancholic at the end of the story, but still; it’s a story that if I experience it myself in real life, I’m sure that it will change my life forever.

My suggestion for you is to watch this if you have free time and you love Ghibli movies, because basically When Marnie Was There is not a must watch and not even one of the best Ghibli movies. But you will enjoy it when you watch it, no doubt for that; I just can’t see any great point for this movie, and it’s definitely not a masterpiece even though it was nominated for an Academy Award. It might get boring, but at least the ending theme will calm your head and the soundtrack is totally worth to collect. More to think about it, now I realize that the movie shines a lot more with its audio rather than its visuals.

additional pieces of information.

*references: http://www.marnie.jp/AllcinemaWiki (en)Anison, and MAL

this image is available to download.

I really like to add more to this review and tell more what this movie could mean to people like me, but I hope you have getting my point enough. Well, I just hope that you will think about to watch this movie if you haven’t already, but hey, I won’t force you to watch it. So that’s it for today, I will get back to reviewing more anime for the future. Keep watching anime and I’ll see you in the next review, bai-bai now~

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