Anime / When Marnie Was There

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Anna and Marnie

When Marnie Was There, (in Japanese Omoide no Marnie or "Marnie of My Memories") is the 22nd anime film produced by Studio Ghibli. It was directed by Hiromasa Yonebayashi and written by him in collaboration Keiko Niwa and Masashi Ando, and based on the classic 1967 children's novel When Marnie Was There by Joan G. Robinson.

The film (and novel) tell the story of Anna, an introverted, alienated and severely asthmatic twelve-year-old girl from Sapporo, who only finds solace in her talent for drawing. To aid her health, Anna's parents send her to stay with relatives living in a rural seaside part of Japan (Norfolk, England in the book), where Anna soon becomes fascinated by a large Western-style manor looming near the marsh next to the village she stays in. The first time she goes there she finds it abandoned and run-down, but on her second visit the house is suddenly full of life and light. More importantly, it appears to be home to a blonde girl named Marnie, who looks exactly like the girl Anna had been seeing in her dreams.

The girls feel an immediate connection, which grows ever deeper each time they meet. Still, Marnie and the manor she is living in remain a mystery. Why does the place look abandoned when Marnie is not around? What is Marnie's true identity? And what are her ties to Anna?

In typical Studio Ghibli style, with gorgeous animation and music, the movie gradually unfolds the meaning of Anna and Marnie's encounters, with Anna meeting several other important people along the way who all help her on her journey to find herself.

The film was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Animated Feature in 2016. It became the fifth Studio Ghibli film to achieve such an honor.


This film provides examples of:

  • Adaptational Heroism: In the book, Sandra is pretty rude to Anna, even taking into account Anna's introverted behavior, and the two never become friends. Nobuko, the movie version, is perfectly friendly towards Anna when she joins her at a festival. While she does upset Anna by pointing out her unusual blue eyes, it's more Innocently Insensitive than actual malice. (She does so because she genuinely thinks they're cool and pretty.) When Sandra gives an angry retort to Anna's outburst, she follows up with the suggestion that they put the whole thing behind them and enjoy the evening. By the end of the film, Anna has apologized for her behavior and Nobuko asks her to join in on trash clean-up next summer.
  • Adult Fear:
    • Having an Ill Girl who always seems to collapse at any time as a foster kid, who in turn is worried about costing you money with doctor visits. Setsuko recounts that Yoriko would call her everyday to ask for advice on how to raise Anna.
    • Anna is found multiple times lying unconscious on the ground while in the countryside. Setsuko doesn't think twice about it.
    • Thinking that even though your foster parents are sweet, that they get a subsidy to take care of you and may be Only in It for the Money which makes your relationship complicated because of abandonment issues
    • Suffering a nervous breakdown due to your husband dying, which ruins ties with your daughter. Then just as you get a second chance with your granddaughter, to raise her, you die and leave her in foster care. Marnie is in tears when she has to tell Anna that she's sorry for leaving her, and that she can't stay longer.
    Marnie: So please, Anna, I need you to forgive me."=
  • Affectionate Nickname: Sayaka's brother calls her "Sherlock" in the English dub.
  • Alcohol Hic: Anna gets one after accidentally drinking wine, and gets drowsy.
  • Ambiguous Disorder: Anna is frequently noted to act oddly for a child or focus on strange things. As the book begins, she book acts detached from other people, enjoys spending time alone, has little time for the family she lives with, and sends postcards to her guardian that are only a few sentences long. She views the world as being a circle with people on the "inside" and on the "outside", believing herself to be on the outside and separate from everyone else. At one point, she goes into a fury over an insult which everyone, even the narrator, considers to be silly. She also doesn't seem to have many friends, but the people she does meet and bond with (Marnie and, later, the family that moves into her house) she's able to form very close ties to. Some of her behavior can be attributed to her fearing that her foster mother is only keeping her for the money, but her reaction to that still comes across as unusual for an upset child.
  • Ambiguously Gay: Anna develops a close and intimate friendship with the titular Marnie. They go on a Old-Fashioned Rowboat Date, cute dancing together, and declaring their love for each other. She also gets upset when Marnie shows interest in a boy. The last minute reveal that Marnie is Anna's Dead All Along grandmother as a child really muddles up the story's intentions.
  • Arcadia: Anna is sent to the countryside to improve her health. She (and the audience) are treated to some beautiful shots of rural Japan.
  • Anguished Declaration of Love: "I love you, Marnie! And I won't ever forget you!"
  • Bait-and-Switch Lesbians: The beginning of the movie is virtually dripping with romantic tension between the two main characters, which led many viewers to believe that this would lead to a payoff by the end. Marnie is Anna's grandmother. As girl she had feelings for Kazuhiko, a boy whom she later marries. Marnie was effectively viewing Anna as a stand-in for Kazuhiko all along.
  • Bittersweet Ending: Anna comes to terms with her her abandonment issues and learns to appreciate her adoptive family but only at the price of learning the tragedies that consumed her biological family. She finally appreciates what she has because it represents everything her parents and grandparents lost.
  • Blush Sticker: Anna often gets them.
  • Break the Cutie: Happens to Marnie prior to the film. She was a sweet girl growing up whose parents were never around and who was left supervised by abusive staff. When she grew up she married her childhood sweetheart but he ended up dying when their daughter was young. [[spoiler:Marnie broke down so badly she was sent to an asylum for several years, which ruined her relationship with her daughter as she felt she had been abandoned. They never mended that bond however after her daughter's death she took in her young granddaughter Anna before dying herself. She was a Doting Grandparent but everything caused her to 'come back' as a ghost child and befriend Anna, while she visited the countryside.]]
  • But Now I Must Go: At the climax, Marnie has to say goodbye to Anna, and asks that the latter forgive her.
  • Catch Your Death of Cold: Sayaka when remembering Anna is in the rain worries that she'll get pneumonia.
  • Chekhov's Gunman: The elderly woman, Hisako, who Anna notices painting by the shore. She is Marnie's childhood friend, and provides Anna and Sayaka with the first half of the truth about Marnie's identity.
  • Childhood Friend Romance: Forms part of the backstory when Marnie marries her childhood friend Kazuhiko.
  • Coming-of-Age Story: Anna matures a lot throughout her adventures with Marnie.
  • Conveniently Interrupted Document: Marnie's diary has the pages about her silo adventure ripped out so that it wouldn't tell Anna (and the audience) what's gonna happen next. Sayaka finds the missing pages afterwards.
  • Cool Big Bro: Sayaka's brother takes her out into the rain to find Anna and then runs for help when they find a feverish, soaked Anna.
  • Cooldown Hug: Anna offers Marnie one on hearing her story after Marnie's sandcastle gets destroyed.
  • Creepy Housekeeper: Marnie's housekeeper. Anna gets a taste of her too.
  • Cry Cute:
    • Marnie while in the silo with Anna because she's terrified.
    • Anna and Sayaka when Hisako tells them Marnie's story.
    • Yoriko when she confesses to Anna about the subsidies.
  • Daydream Surprise: After supper, the scene cuts to Anna walking through the marsh to the mansion and seeing Marnie for the first time. Then the scene cuts to Anna in her bed, suggesting that the whole sequence was a dream.
  • Dead All Along: Marnie. She is Anna's grandmother as a child and died prior to the film.
  • Definitely Just a Cold: Anna passes out several times over the course of the story but refuses to acknowledge she has a problem.
  • Determinator:
  • Doting Grandparent: Marnie died when her granddaughter was very young but was a caring grandmother for the time they spent together. She had an estranged relationship with her own daughter due to her daughter believing she abandoned her. Marnie's love Anna is a focus of the film, though Marnie is presented as Anna's age until The Reveal at the end that she's Anna's grandmother. Due to a Relationship Writing Fumble their affections come off as romantic more than familial, which has awkward implications.
  • Dramatic Thunder: Twice at the silo. First a powerful thunder prevents the two maids to go through with their plan to force Marnie to enter the detested silo as a prank. Later a dramatic thunder scares Marnie big time when inside the silo with Anna.
  • Epiphany Therapy: The encounter with Marnie helps Anna to overcome her deep-seated abandonment issues.
  • Everyone Has Standards: Anna and Sayaka are horrified when they learn that Marnie's governess and maids abuse her.
  • Face Your Fears: Anna does this with Marnie when urging her to enter the silo and overcome her fear of this place.
  • The Ferry Man: Alluded to. The first time Anna visits the manor she found herself stranded on the other side of the bay after the tide came in. A silent fisherman finds her and brings her back to the village.
  • Flyaway Shot: The last scene before the credits is a zoom-out from the house into the sky (where Marnie lives).
  • Foreshadowing:
    • Anna has Blue Eyes. This is foreshadowing that she is of Mixed Ancestry. Who else has blue eyes? Marnie, who turns out to be Anna's grandmother.
    • Marnie dresses in a vintage fashion that resembles styles from the early to mid-20th century. It's unusual for a girl her age but not particularly unheard of and it establishes her the girly girl to Anna's tomboy. It also foreshadows that Marnie is Dead All Along and not a modern child.
  • Fostering for Profit: Anna feared Yoriko only adopted her for the money. Turns out, it wasn't the case.
  • Foster Kid: Marnie's governess abuses her when her parents aren't around.
  • Friendless Background: Being an overly introvert and quirky girl, Anna has no no friends at home.
  • Gilded Cage: Marnie lives in a luxurious mansion with wealthy parents, but her governess is abusive and the maids bully her. Hisako explicitly says that Marnie was neglected.
  • Ghibli Hills: A given.
  • Ghostly Goals: Marnie wants to spend time with Anna, who is truly her granddaughter, and help her grow beyond her abandonment issues.
  • Hair Contrast Duo: Blond Marnie and brunette Anna.
  • Hands-On Approach: The physical connection when Marnie shows Anna how to row the boat properly.
  • Haunted House: Marnie's house and, to some extend, the Silo.
  • Haunted House Historian: The uncle alludes the hauntedness of the silo and the mansion.
  • History Repeats: Marnie repeats her parents' mistakes, sending her daughter off to boarding school at a young age due to Marnie being ill, leaving her daughter Emily to grow up independent and estranged. Emily, like her mother, went off to get married in a rush, only to die in a car accident with her husband and leave their baby alive. The cycle finally breaks when Anna makes up with her foster parents.
  • Hope Spot: For Marnie, it was getting a chance to raise her granddaughter better than she raised her own daughter. She then died a year later from shock and health complications, leaving Anna in foster care.
  • Ill Girl: Anna, though she works her way up to Plucky Girl by the end.
  • Imaginary Friend: Anna come to this conclusion about Marnie when reading her diary.
    Anna: Marnie is...someone I made up. An imaginary girl, only in my mind.
  • I'm Cold... So Cold...: Said word for word by Marnie inside the silo.
  • Inescapable Net: The bed sheet Marnie throws on the Creepy Housekeeper keeps the latter trapped long enough for Marnie to fetch the key and lock her up.
  • Innocent Blue Eyes: Anna and Marnie. This is significant, as blue is a very exotic eye color in Japan and Anna's blue eyes do not go unnoticed, which just feeds her sense of isolation.
  • Intimate Healing: When Marnie starts freezing in the silo, Anna crouches beside her to warm her up.
  • Jerkass: The governess and two maids abuse and bully Marnie when her parents are away. In addition, from the description we're given, the governess and maids were bullying Marnie for no apparent reason other than sheer malice.
  • Jerkass Realization: Downplayed; Anna over the course of the movie, realizing that her Parental Abandonment issues make her unwilling to trust the people who care for her.
  • Long-Lost Relative: Marnie is Anna's grandmother. Kazuhiko is therefore her grandfather and Marnie's mother and father are Anna's are, therefore great-grandparents.
  • Love Letter Lunacy: Parental love version: Anna's isolation and disillusionment began when she found a hidden letter to her foster mother that rocked her whole world.
  • Mama Bear: Setsuko is one when Anna is accused of being a delinquent.
  • Meaningful Echo: On the boat Sayaka's wants the diary to be her and Anna's secret which echoes the scene earlier at the same place where Marnie asked to keep her relationship with Anna a secret. The connection is that Marnie's diary brought Anna and Sayaka together as friends.
  • Melancholy Moon: There are haunting images of the crescent moon shining over the bay at night.
  • Mistaken Identity:
    • Sayaka asks Anna, "Are you Marnie?" and claims she found the latter's diary.
    • Later on, when Anna finds Marnie in the silo, the latter calls her Kazuhiko, her boyfriend.
  • Mixed Ancestry: Anna is of Japanese and white ancestry. Because of that, unlike most other characters, she has blue eyes. The titular Marnie turns out to be Anna's deceased grandmother as a child.
  • Ms. Exposition: Hisako, blantly so. Her story fills in many of the gaps by the end of the movie.
  • Mukokuseki: Subverted Anna's blue eyes attract notice and are an important clue to her heritage.
  • Never Trust a Trailer: The imagery used in promotional materials led quite a few people to believe that the movie deals with a budding romance between the two female leads. It doesn't.
  • New Parent Nomenclature Problem: Anna calls her foster mother "auntie". A Crowning Moment of Heartwarming ensues towards the end when she suddenly addresses her with "mother".
  • No Accounting for Taste: Marnie falls for a guy that left her alone in a silo, a place she fears, all night to help with her phobia. That guy would later become Anna's grandfather.
  • No Antagonist: This is a Coming-of-Age Story with the focus on figuring out just who Marnie is. There are some instances of cruelty but there are no real antagonist.
  • Not Now, Kiddo: Anna when Sayaka reveals that she found the rest of Marnie's diary right when Marnie goes missing near the silo, and Anna knows that the silo is Marnie's worst fear. Sayaka lampshades this.
  • Old-Fashioned Rowboat Date: Marnie teaches Anna to rowboat and often bonds together with the rowboat.
  • Parental Abandonment: Marnie's parents are present, but often leave her with an abusive governess; Anna's abandonment issues stem from several traumatic early childhood incidents.
    Anna: My real parents died when I was little. My grandmother, too. I know they didn't die on purpose, but... sometimes I feel like... I can't forgive them... for leaving me all alone.
  • Pensieve Flashback: Towards the end when Hisako fills Anna in on Marnie's life story, we see Anna being present in the flashbacks.
  • Please Don't Leave Me: Marnie to her parents every time they leave, and to Anna in the silo.
  • Plucky Girl: As expected in a Studio Ghibli film, Marnie is fairly plucky (though her pluckiness has limits) and she teaches Anna pluckiness by example.
  • Romantic Two-Girl Friendship: Anna and Marnie's relationship seems to veer in that direction at first. Things are not quite as they seem, though.
  • Scenery Porn: This is by Studio Ghibli, so this is to be expected. Still, the animation of the water in that marsh is gorgeous.
  • Secondary Character Title: The film is about a girl named Anna who befriends the titular Marnie.
  • Secret Diary: Sayaka finds Marnie's diary and shows it to Anna upon which the latter realize that she just imagined her encounters with Marnie.
  • She Cleans Up Nicely:
    • Marnie when she dresses for the party in a pink dress.
    • Anna in her festival clothes.
  • She's All Grown Up: Marnie at her wedding.
  • Shrine to the Fallen: A variation of the living. The uncle and aunt have kept their daughter's room as it was when she left the house.
  • Sink-or-Swim Mentor: Kazuhiko left Marnie alone in the silo for one night so she would have to face her fears. He comes back for her in the morning.
  • Spoiled Sweet:
    • Marnie is this, living with wealthy parents but also befriending the lonely Anna.
    • Sayaka is the same way, though also adventurous.
  • Standard Female Grab Area: Marnie is dragged around this way by Nan and the maids. Justified in that she is a child and they are full-grown adults.
  • Stepford Smiler:
    • Anna is this around everyone, hiding her feelings unless provoked because she knows that she has a good life and thus she shouldn't complain. The few times that the facade breaks is heartbreaking, like when she tells Marnie that she found out her foster parents were being paid to look after her, but they use it to take care of her, and she hates that it was being kept a secret.
    • Marnie is a Cheerful Child, up to the point where she reveals that her Nan and the maids were abusive and her parents while good people aren't always around to protect her.
  • Suddenly Voiced: The fisherman at the end when hearing the name "Marnie".
  • Time Travel: Combined with Living Memory. Both seem possible in the beginning and the difference matters in the end.
  • Tomboy and Girly Girl: Anna and Marnie, respectively. It's a rare example with an introverted tomboy and an outgoing girly girl.
  • Troubled Fetal Position:
    • Marnie when two maids tried to drag her to the silo, and later on when she's trapped in there due to her own fear.
  • True Blue Femininity: Marnie favors wearing blue dresses. Her style of dress could be foreshadowing to the fact she's not a modern day child.
  • Unfinished Business: Marnie came back in ghost form to assist with her granddaughter's Parental Abandonment.
  • The Voiceless: The fisherman apparently hasn't said a single word for quite some time but breaks his silence at the end when hearing the name Marnie.
  • Voiceover Letter: When Anna reads Marnie's diary, it's voiced by Marnie herself.
  • Weather Saves the Day: See the first part of Dramatic Thunder above.
  • Wham Line:
    • Sayaka's "Are you Marnie?"
    • Yoriko talking about a photograph: "Someone at the orphanage told me it belonged to your grandmother."
  • When She Smiles: Anna's laugh is quite sweet since at best she gives a repressed smile.
  • Why Did It Have to Be Snakes?: Marnie is scared of the silo because "naughty children get locked up there" and the maids as a prank nearly did lock her up there on a stormy night.
  • Write Back to the Future: Marnie's diary in effect though not in intent.

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