Anime Film Review: When Marnie Was There


Possibly the last feature from the internationally-renowned Studio Ghibli, Hiromasa Yonebayashi (Arrietty) returns with his second feature, WHEN MARNIE WAS THERE. When twelve-year-old Anna Sasaki collapses from an asthma attack, her foster parents decide to send her away to the rural town of Kushiro where she is to spend the summer with her relatives.

Upon arrival, Anna sees an abandoned manor that stands in the distance beyond a salt marsh. After seeing the house momentarily lit, Anna was determined to find out more about the house. On the night of the Tanabata festival, Anna encounters a golden-haired girl named Marnie, and they quickly form a friendship that is unparalleled to others.

Introduced to a vibrant world of life, spontaneity and excitement, Anna eventually learns how to dance and row a boat by moonlight. Despite Marnie reassuring Anna that their encounter is not a dream, the charming Marnie requests Anna not to tell anyone of their friendship. But with Marnie having the tendency to disappear at erratic moments and leaving Anna on the side of the road, is Marnie really who she is?

Beautifully animated as always, Studio Ghibli should be commended for its visual beauty. Displaying reverence for life through its characters and natural environment, we are blessed with the magnificent sight of the seaside, homey Japanese houses and rolling hills. Almost like a summer dream, When Marnie Was There is a languid story that can be enjoyed at one’s own pace, but unfortunately, the film falls short of the fantastical element that Ghibli is best known for.

However, beyond its calm surface, When Marnie Was There is surprisingly darker than most Ghibli films. Dealing with a combination of supernatural and psychological themes, the film attempts to be emotionally complex by placing an ungracious adolescent on the foreground.

Ostracised from others, Anna is in the process of figuring out her identity and position in the world. Simmering with self-loathing and being ignorant to peoples’ feelings, Anna’s repellent character often comes across as distasteful to her peers and audience’s liking.

This is all changes when Anna meets the wondrous Marnie. As the audience learns more about the girls’ personalities and secrets, we sometimes question the film’s exploration with its storytelling.

Without a doubt, the supernatural element in When Marnie Was There would have swept the audience off our feet, as we, along with Anna, feel compelled to deduce the mystery that has enveloped our interest. As if overwhelmed with hesitation, the film kept circling back and forth with no sense of direction. The film’s conclusion ultimately felt rushed in its narrative execution but that doesn’t mean the film lacked any of the raw emotions in its storytelling.

Overall: Studio Ghibli has a reputation for being superior than American animated films but to our great surprise, WHEN MARNIE WAS THERE was strangely average. 

The film may not be as fantastical or adventurous like Spirited Away or Howl’s Moving Castle, but it still captures Ghibli’s spirit nevertheless. When Marnie Was There is a great supernatural coming-of-age film that will intrigue loyal fans to a certain degree.


Rating: 7.5/10

WHEN MARNIE WAS THERE is now out on DVD. You can view more info on Madman Entertainment’s site [here]

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