Anna hates everything about herself. Nothing is right; everything is wrong. She doesn’t know who she is, where she is going, or what to do. To find out who she is Anna must first learn what’s important in life.
English Title: When Marnie Was There
Japanese Title: 思い出のマーニー (Omoide no Mānī)
Company: Studio Ghibli
Australian Rating: PG
Version: English dub
Classification: Fiction (anime)
Themes: identity, family, relationships
What’s it about?
Anna is a sad 12 year old. She hates herself and everything about her life. She feels unwanted, unloved, and without a place in the world. To help with her asthma her adoptive parents send Anna away from the city of Sapporo to relatives in a small seaside village. There Anna begins to dream of a blond-haired girl who lives in the old Marsh House. Soon she meet the girl, Marnie, and the two girls form a bond in which Anna comes to realise that not everything is as it seems.
- It goes without saying that the animation and backgrounds are gorgeous.
- The two main characters have strong and unique personalities who both have traits that children can relate to.
- There is a balance of types of characters (eg. modern, traditional, etc.)
- The story line is complete in the sense that there is a clear beginning, middle and end.
- This is only based on the novel of the same name. Ensure that you are aware of the character and plot differences!
- A key feature of the novel is self-hate/loathing by Anna; at times she gives (at least she did to me) the impression of self-harming on the horizon or maybe even suicide.
- Boys play a very minor role in the movie.
I have probably watched this movie close to 30 times for different reasons. Like most anime films this one is not a “watch and understand” film – this is a “watch and think about it and watch again and begin to understand” type of film. If you’re using this one in the classroom I would recommend at least two viewings.
Anna is a bit of an anti-hero in this movie. She isn’t setting out to “teach” anything – just find her own way in her life – which she feels is dreadful and not worth living. For Anna, her identity is strongly tied to biological family and in her case she doesn’t know who her parents, or any relatives for that matter, are. Knowing that her foster parents receive money to take her of her makes her feel like she is a financial burden and money-maker at the same time. When she heads for the seaside village to live with the Oiwa’s she finds a very different pace and lifestyle to that of Sapporo. Why she is drawn to Marnie isn’t made obvious and is never really explained but one can surmise that blood is thicker than water in this case of this plot.
Marnie’s life is equally depressing at times, though she puts on a smile and brave face better than Anna. She demonstrates that the 30s/40s era isn’t always what later generations have been made to think of it being (history is all too often romantised to the extreme and becomes more fiction than fact a lot of the time). Her life is one of loneliness, of being around adults far too much, of acting the grown-up far too early. She wants to feel loved by the two people who (while they love her) are never there to see her grow up, they are not there to contribute to her life.
There is a lot of comparison that can be done between the two girls’ lives and upbringing. It is the threads though that binds the similarities of the two girls’ lives that shines through to show that one can move forward and make something positive from a negative start.
Personally I would have like a male to have a larger role but at the same time I am pleased there wasn’t an absolute “Prince Charming” thrown in just for the sake of it. Kazuhiko is probably the closest you find to a rescuer in the book – he is the one person who looks out for Marnie and who she is willing to confide in.
Overall this is an enjoyable movie but it isn’t for the very young. As mentioned there are concepts in this movie that just wouldn’t be understood by the younger child. This movie is PG rated so you may need (if in the classroom) a permission note from parents/caregivers to view.