When Marnie Was There was directed by Hiromasa Yonebayashi, and is based on the children’s book of the same name by Joan G. Robinson.

When Marnie Was There
English Publisher: GKIDS
Format: Blu-ray/DVD
Release Date: October 11, 2022

The film focuses on Anna, an introverted 12-year-old girl who suffers from asthma attacks. Since Anna is introverted and hates herself, she doesn’t discuss her feelings with her foster mother, and this causes her foster mother to worry about her. After Anna collapses from an asthma attack, she is sent to a rural seaside town to spend the summer with a couple of her foster mother’s relatives because the air is clearer there.

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

One day, after Anna has a disagreement with one of the local girls during a festival, she encounters a mysterious blond-haired girl named Marnie. Anna finds she’s able to easily befriend and care about Marnie, even though she’s never been able to do that before. As the film progresses, hints are dropped that perhaps Anna’s interactions with Marnie are actually a dream. However, with the way the film is done, it can be hard to tell where reality ends and where the dreams begin. There’s also a major reveal right near the end of the film, but I had pretty much figured it out before all the pieces of the reveal had been presented. However, the film had built itself up so well that I still had an emotional reaction when the final pieces were put together for the big reveal.

This was my second time watching When Marnie Was There, and I still found that the film’s story was well told. I also thought the character development for both Anna and Marnie was executed in a realistic way. Anna is a character who is relatable to the audience, and the film’s theme of friendship also resonates with viewers.

Visually, When Marnie Was There has the feel of a typical Studio Ghibli film, but the writing and the execution are noticeably a little different. It’s interesting to note that this film has strong female characters, especially the leads, and that the male characters weren’t 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. Even with this second viewing, I still think it’s great to see a film where the female characters shine and are the ones who progress the story forward.

I should also mention that the visuals for When Marnie Was There looked lush and were great to look at. The visuals are just as compelling as the actual story, and I thought it was an interesting choice on Yonebayashi’s part to use the sky to help illustrate Anna’s mood in various scenes. It’s not the typical blue skies with white clouds that you normally see in Studio Ghibli films, and in some respects, this kind of makes the sky in this film a character in its own right.

When it comes to the Blu-ray in this release, it has 1080p High-Definition Widescreen 1.85:1 for the video. The audio includes English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.0, Japanese DTS-HD Master Audio 5.0, and Francais DTS Digital Surround 5.0. The DVD has Anamorphic Widescreen 1.85:1, and includes English Dolby Digital 5.0, Japanese Dolby Digital 5.0, and Francais Digital Dolby 5.0 for the audio. I had no complaints with the either the video or the audio quality of this release.

Two of the bonus features are exclusive to the Blu-ray included in this set, while the remaining three appear on both the Blu-ray and the DVD.

The first Blu-ray exclusive bonus feature is “The Making of When Marnie Was There.” This is a roughly 40-minute television special that aired in Japan, and it shows some behind the scenes footage of the making of the film, as well as some shots from the screening for the staff, as well as the first screening for the public in Hokkaido. There are also a couple of sections where Yonebayashi and Sara Takatsuki, the Japanese voice actress for Anna, go on location to Hokkaido to look at locations that helped inspire the look of the marsh in the film. It was an interesting enough bonus feature, although since it was a television special that was limited to a 40-minute runtime, it couldn’t quite go as in-depth on the behind the scenes material as I would have liked.

The other Blu-ray exclusive bonus feature is “Yohei Taneda Creates the Art of When Marnie Was There.” This feature seems to take the viewer through an exhibit of art and real-life versions of some of the locations in the film, and this feature is narrated by Sara Takatsuki. There a couple of times where you hear a recording of Yohei Tanada explaining some of his decisions for the art of the film. This feature has a roughly 18 minute runtime. It’s just long enough to explain the art and to give information to the viewer, but it’s not so long that it feels stretched out and potentially boring the viewer.

“Behind the Scenes with the Voice Cast” appears on both the DVD and the Blu-ray, and it’s a roughly 13-minute long feature focusing on the English voice cast of When Marnie Was There. The interviews with the voice cast are intercut with footage from the film. It’s pretty standard for the “behind the scenes” features that focus on the English voice cast that appear on the U.S. releases of Studio Ghibli films.

“Foreign Trailers and TV Spots” also appear on both discs in the set, and it 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.

Also in the bonus features is “Feature-Lenth Storyboards,” which is basically the film except it’s the storyboards instead of the animation. Even after all these years, I still don’t understand what the appeal of this kind of bonus feature is. Watching nearly two hours of storyboards just seems kind of boring to me.

When Marnie Was There is a film that should be in the anime home video library of anyone who considers themselves a fan of Studio Ghibli and its works. If you’ve seen and enjoyed the film but haven’t added it to your physical media library yet, then this Blu-ray/DVD combo release from GKIDS is the best home video release to acquire.

Additional reviews of Studio Ghibli films: