Movie Review: “When Marnie was There”


Because I’ve already done a game review, and also because I recently watched this gem after pre-ordering it awhile ago. 🙂 I wanted to share the love of it, because it’s a beautiful story and film that should be shared.

Warning: This post may contain spoilers. I try not to give the good details away, but there are some nitty-gritty things you might not want to know. If you have not seen the movie and don’t want anything ruined for you, read at your own risk!

51rdpkLbyxL._SX323_BO1,204,203,200_When Marnie Was There is actually based on the book of the same name by Joan G. Robinson (which I’ve yet to read, but is definitely on my list, now!). I should have known–it’s not the first time Studio Ghibli has based one of their works on a book (Howl’s Moving Castle and Arrietty come to mind), and either way, I love Ghibli’s work. There’s maybe only one or two films of theirs that I can’t say I thoroughly enjoyed. Marnie was directed by Hiromasa Yonebayashi.

For the short description (from Amazon), head on over here. The rest is long (and hopefully not too spoilerific), but has my thoughts on the film included. 😉

The story follows twelve year old Anna. She lives in the city with her foster parents and treks through her days in solitude, using her time to herself to focus a bit on her art. She is a brilliant artist, but doesn’t appear to have much confidence in her abilities, if the beginning of the film is any indication.

We don’t get to see much more of Anna’s life in the big city. Anna tumblr_nliawx6gS61qmtyk0o1_540
suffers from nasty asthma attacks, and one particularly bad one spurs the decision to send Anna to a seaside country town to stay with her foster mother’s relatives, the Oiwa’s. Fresh seaside air will do this girl some good! Plus she’s a bit of a loner; the isolation probably won’t put a damper on her mood, right?

Pretty much. The Oiwa’s are a fun couple, bantering with each other and bringing Anna into their home as family does. And the best part for Anna is that they basically let her roam free. What more could a kid ask for? I personally thought it was worrying (but funny) that they didn’t keep closer tabs on this girl throughout the film. I mean, hello, she’s out there for health reasons. My mom and I commented on this frequently as we watched it. Ah, but country folk are trusting and carefree. No worries, then. Off Anna goes on her own adventures!

tumblr_n6cqdgRdkl1rt479bo10_1280And soon into Anna’s adventures she finds the marsh house. It’s actually a very beautiful looking house still, despite its obvious lack of use over the years. Anna gets a sense that she’s seen the house before–it’s so familiar to her. But that’s crazy–she’s never been here before now. In the way that children do, Anna makes her way over to the house to investigate, sloshing through wet marsh in the process. And also like children do (and another thing I found amusing–ah, kids) Anna ends up falling asleep after snooping around a bit.

But crap, the tide came in while she slept–now there was way too much water to just walk back across the marsh! Luckily for her a kindly local fisherman must have spotted her there while out in his boat, for as Anna makes her way back down to the water she see’s a kindly old man rowing her way. He’s very quiet, saying nothing, actually, and gives her a ride back to the other side of the marsh. As Anna glances back to the house, for a moment she sees it in good repair and windows lit. Imagination? Illusion? Witchcraft and wizardry? Hm.

Once back at the Oiwa’s (who seem not at all concerned that their house guest was gone from early in the day ’til it got dark out–ah, country folk), they explain to Anna over dinner that the house used to be a foreign family’s vacation home, but nobody had used it in years since then. That night, and nights following, Anna dreams of a young girl having her long, blond hair being brushed by an old woman, sitting in a room of the marsh house.

Because this is getting super long, time to condense a bit. Anna finally meets Marnie! Anna takes a tumblr_n8vq9ybLvP1rll7syo1_250trip to the marsh at night, the tide already high, and finds a boat tied up there. She takes the boat across to the marsh house, and Marnie comes down to greet her as she rows up. Anna tells Marnie she saw her in her dreams, but Marnie only smiles and assures her that this is no dream, now. After spending some time together, Marnie rows Anna back across, and the two promise to keep their time together (and future, subsequent meet-ups) a secret.

From here the film is a series of meetings (and missed meetings) between Anna and Marnie, the two slowly learning more about each other and growing closer. (Also spoiler-y things that I’m trying to avoid.) And, in Anna’s case, growing up and accepting herself.

tumblr_nlnp5k8tlg1tknp1oo6_250Now to the fun part. Anna is a very insecure young girl. Understandable–her family all died when she was very young, resulting in her having to live in a foster home. Add that to the asthma and she’s just a little ball of sad and some self-pity. I love Anna, because we can see her growth in the film. But what I actually really like about Anna is that she’s a snarky, kind of rude little brat.

A lot of Ghibli’s female protagonists are usually very kind, gentle, careful with their words, etc. But Anna mince’s no words. She might not always speak, but when she does, watch out! She even blatantly insults another girl who is trying to get to know her. It’s shocking and a little refreshing at the same time to have some ‘new blood’ in the Ghibli family that’s so fiery. Last I remember those traits were found in only Kiki and Sophie in other films.

Marnie is a carefree spirit who seems like she’d be a great girl to hang out and have
tumblr_nlnufm2H0z1ttdjgeo3_500 fun with. She’s very bright and chipper, and throughout the film rarely doesn’t have a smile on her face. She has her own history, though; neglectful parents, abusive house-help (terrible maids, ugh!), and a controlling grandmother. But Marnie still sees the light in situations, and even brings that light to Anna. I suppose Marnie grows in the film, but in the interest of not giving anything more away, let’s just say I found Anna’s growth far more interesting.

And the surprises in store! Oh, Anna was a lovely surprise all on her own with her attitude, but there’s that and so much more. It’s obvious from the beginning (and probably from what I’ve described) that there is something going on with Marnie and what surrounds her. And while the viewer can certainly guess at (and get close to) what that secret of hers is, once you learn it it’s a nice surprise, but was also all tied together nicely. At first I was ready to call bull, but the film had hints for me that, once I thought about it, made complete sense.

Overall the film was a wonderful surprise. Not a surprise that I’d enjoy it–I pretty much knew I would, but I’m also biased about Ghibli films. Haw-haw. No, When Marnie Was There was a surprise for it’s unique characters, it’s plot that I did not expect at all, and… well, okay. I was surprised that I liked it as much as I did. I knew I would, but not this much. In fact, writing about it just makes me want to watch it again. I recommend it to anyone looking for a feel good movie about growing up–bring your kids, even!



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