When Marnie Was There is the last movie released by the famous Japanese animation studio called Studio Ghibli, and the first I saw that got me hooked on anime, a style of Japanese animation. The story follows Anna, a young teenage girl suffering from asthma, who is sent to the country by her foster parents to live with her relatives for a while. One day, she comes across an empty house known as the Marsh House. She returns to the house time and time again to find no one living inside until, one day, she finds a young girl named Marnie who insists that Anna never tell anyone about her. As the movie progresses, we learn more about Anna and Marnie’s personal backgrounds and life stories, and finally, about how their two lives might intersect . . .
There are three reasons I absolutely love this movie. First, I felt great empathy toward Anna. Anna is a shy and lonely girl who is trying to fit in, and I am also shy. Marnie is a good friend to Anna: she is kind and lighthearted and always tries to cheer Anna up.
Secondly, I appreciate that the two girls don’t have a normal friendship. Other movies about friendship typically show friends having fun until a problem occurs that tests their friendship—and then the friends either reunite or break up and drift apart. For example, Bumblebee (part of the Transformers film series) is about a young girl and a robot who become close friends. They have various fun adventures during the movie until the girl finds out Bumblebee is being hunted by other robots. When Marnie Was There is different because Anna and Marnie never get to really know each other. There seems to be a mystery or secret that’s keeping them at a distance from each other. And so, this creates suspense and leaves the viewer waiting for more. Who is Marnie? Is she a real person? Is she a ghost? Is she a figment of Anna’s imagination? What is their relationship? The plot is never pieced together, and it’s up to you to figure it out. This is a concept I have never seen before in a movie.
Finally, I love the animation. Most other anime films have gross characters and ugly worlds. For example, Spirited Away, another Studio Ghibli film, has a really twisty world with really ugly characters; they all look old and wrinkly. But in When Marnie Was There, the animation is realistic, and you can see everything perfectly just like in the real world. Unlike Disney animation, the anime in this movie is more beautiful because you can see all the details on the birds, flowers, and trees, and you feel like you’re in Marnie’s world. Disney animation has mostly empty worlds, and the setting doesn’t feel alive. This is because the Disney world focuses primarily on the story happening in the movie and not on world-building.
This movie, while insanely good, does have some flaws. You see, the entire movie is literally Anna going to Marnie, and nothing else; there are barely any scenes in the movie that are not related to the friendship between the two girls. Another annoying thing is that the movie is really slow. Anna learns about Marnie very slowly. So you always have to wait for Anna to find Marnie over and over again and also wait patiently through many unnecessary scenes of Anna drawing, doing chores, etc. What’s up with this slow waiting? Other than those two flaws, I feel this movie was extremely clever for a friendship story.
If you like a fast-paced thriller or action like the Harry Potter movies, then this movie is not for you. This movie requires deep thinking. Overall, When Marnie Was There is a wonderful Studio Ghibli movie and will stay in my mind as one of the greatest emotional movies of all time. There is pain, sadness, hope, and loss, and that is why I cried at the end!