We are now down the last few in the Studio Ghibli Challenge.
Suppose you started watching their films chronologically from Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind. In that case, you immediately recognize that most films from the studio were either absolute classics or entirely forgettable. You might have shed a few tears after watching Grave of the Fireflies or Howl's Moving Castle and or moved by the incredible story like The Tale of the Princess Kaguya or Spirited Away. Nevertheless, Studio Ghibli films are in a different league.
When Marnie Was There again belongs to the animation studio's classics.
The film begins when a young and low self-esteem girl Anna Sasaki, who lives with her foster parents, suffers an asthma attack at school. The doctor recommends letting her stay in a place with clean air, like the countryside. The parents followed the advice and allowed her to live with their relatives, Setsu and Kiyomasa.
While exploring the town, Anna stumbled upon an old mansion across the marshes. Curious, she decides to go there but gets trapped because of the rising tide. Toichi, the local fisherman, rescued her. Upon leaving, she sees a blonde-haired girl in the mansion. On the night of the festival, Anna ran away after getting into a fight with one of their neighbor's daughters. She went to the marshes and met Marnie, the blonde-haired girl. She invites Anna to a party in the mansion. There she sees Marnie dancing with a boy named Kazuhiko.
The following day, Anna went to the marshes and met a fellow painter named Hisako. She comments on her sketches of Marnie that it looked like someone she knew before. A new family moves in into the mansion. Anna visits them and meets Sayaka, a young girl who gives her Marnie's diary. When she meets again with Marnie, she tells her that her birth parents paid her foster parents to ensure she is taken care of. She assumes that they only pretend to love her for the money. Marnie also shares that her parents are always abroad, and she spends most of her time with her cruel nanny. The maids bully her and threaten to lock her in a silo near the mansion. Anna and Marnie went to the silo to conquer her fear, thanks to Kazuhiko.
Sayaka finds the missing pages of Marnie's diary with notes about Kazuhiko and the silo. She and her brother find Anna unconscious with a high fever. They bring her back to Kiyomasa and Setsu's house, where she confronts Marnie again. Marnie tells her that she cannot be allowed to see her anymore. When Anna recovers, she returns to the mansion only to talk to Hisako, who reveals Marnie's story. It seems that Marnie and Kazuhiko married and had a daughter named Emily. She was left alone when he died of an illness, and Marnie went to a sanatorium to cope with her loss. During her teenage years, Emily was rebellious to her mother for abandoning her. She ran away from home and had a daughter soon after. However, Emily and her husband died in a car accident, leaving Marnie to care for her granddaughter. After Marnie's death, she was placed in foster care.
Anna's mother arrived and was glad to see her daughter having new friends. She gave Anna an old picture of the mansion, saying it belonged to her grandmother. When she sees Marnie's name written on the back of the photograph, she realizes that Marnie is her grandmother. This brings closure to her identity. She says goodbye to her new friends before seeing Marnie at the mansion and waves back to her.
This movie is one of the most dramatic and tear-jerker movies that Studio Ghibli created. Maybe not as powerful as Grave of the Fireflies, but it still has a very sad story in-between. There are a lot of moments that make your eyes warm and fuzzy. Usually, I don't buy these kinds of stories, but I believe it adds to the story so much that it feels normal.
What I like most about the film is its straightforward and relatable plot. The first few minutes of the movie make you feel like a typical coming-of-age drama with bits of dramatic pieces in between, but as soon as the story ends, it makes you want to hug and appreciate everyone around you. What makes it unique is the plot twist that occurs in the climax. I believe it puts so much more into the story. I also think that the storyline is well-paced.
Character development is once again present and noticeable, especially in Anna. She starts as very timid, introverted, and very laid back. She gets into trouble in small situations. Once the story progresses, she becomes more open and mature. The characters she met along the way were the ones that defined her and recognized more of her personality.
This movie might not stand on the same level as Spirited Away, Princess Mononoke, or The Tale of the Princess Kaguya because those three are in a different league regarding storytelling and creativity. However, I still believe that When Marnie Was There is an absolute classic. It deserves to be recognized more and stand toe-to-toe with other legendary works from Studio Ghibli.
I recommend this film, especially if you are looking for an excellent drama anime movie to watch on a rainy weekend.
When Marnie Was There deserves a solid 4 out of 5 stars.