When Marnie Was There is a film released by Studio Ghibli and directed by Hiromasa Yonebayashi. The story is based on the Joan G. Robinson novel of the same name.

When Marnie Was There
Directed by: Hiromasa Yonebayashi
Written by: Masashi Andō, Keiko Niwa, and Hiromasa Yonebayashi
Starring: Sara Takatsuki and Kasumi Arimura
Run Time: 103 minutes

The film focuses on Anna, an introverted 12-year-old girl who suffers from asthma attacks. Anna doesn’t discuss her feelings with her foster parents, which causes her foster mother to wonder what’s wrong. But after Anna collapses from an asthma attack at school, she is sent to spend the summer with a couple of her foster mother’s relatives out in a rural, seaside town because the air is clearer there.

When Anna arrives and starts exploring her new location, she sees an abandoned and dilapidated mansion across a salt marsh. She wades across the marsh to examine it, and wonders why it feels so familiar. She learns that the mansion used to be a vacation home for a foreigner family but that it has been empty for a long time. Anna begins having dreams of a blond girl in the mansion.

One day, Anna encounters a mysterious blond girl around her age named Marnie. For some reason, Anna finds that she’s easily able to befriend and care about Marnie, when she’s never been able to do that with anyone else before. But as the film progresses, hints are dropped that perhaps Anna’s interactions with Marnie are actually a dream. But the way the film is done, it can be hard to tell where reality ends and where dreams begin. There’s also a major reveal right near the end of the film, but I had pretty much already figured it out before all the pieces for the reveal were presented. But the film had built itself up so well that I still had an emotional reaction when the final pieces were put together for the movie’s big revelation.

The story in When Marnie Was There was very well-told, and the character development for both Anna and Marnie was executed in a realistic way. The character of Anna is very relatable to the audience, and the film’s theme of friendship also resonates with viewers.

It’s interesting to note that When Marnie Was There has the feel of a typical Studio Ghibli film, yet it does something that I don’t think any other has. This movie has strong female lead characters, yet none of the male characters are terribly crucial for progressing the overall story. The only male characters present in the film are all older than Anna, with two of them being old men. It was great to see a film where the female characters shine and are the ones who progress the story forward.

While the animation is what I’ve come to expect from Studio Ghibli, it still looked lush and was great to look at. The visuals for When Marnie Was There were just as compelling as the actual story, and the combination of these elements makes this a standout film from the studio.

When it comes to the DVD release itself, it includes three bonus features. The first is a nearly 13 minute featurette titled, “Behind the Scenes with the Voice Cast.” This feature focuses on the members of the English dub cast, whose interviews are intercut with footage from the film. It’s pretty standard for the “behind the scenes” featurettes that have been included on U.S. home video releases for Studio Ghibli films.

Next is “Foreign Trailers and TV Spots,” which runs for six minutes and 22 seconds. There are seven spots in all, and they have Japanese audio with English subtitles. The final extra is the U.S. trailer, which is one minute and 40 seconds in length.

When all is said and done, When Marnie Was There is a great film that fans of Studio Ghibli should be able to appreciate and enjoy. If it turns out that this ends up being the final theatrical film to come out from Studio Ghibli, at least they were able to go out on a high note with When Marnie Was There.

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