This post includes a brief plot summary, an explanation about the ending of the film When Marnie Was There (2014) and a character analysis of Anna Sasaki. Beware of spoilers.
Directed by Hiromasa Yonebayashi, the 2014 Japanese anime drama is based on Joan G’s novel of the same name. Today’s post is solely based on the film, not the novel.
When Marnie Was There – Plot Summary
Anna Sasaki is a 12-year-old girl living with her foster parents, Yoriko and her husband. Due to her frequent asthma attacks, they send her to the countryside. She’s staying with Yoriko’s family: Setsu and Kiyomasa.
During a walk, Anna discovers a mansion by the lake. She looks around, but the rising tide impedes her from leaving. Meanwhile, an old fisherman appears and Anna is able to return to the shore. She reports the incident to Setsu. Anna learns that the mansion used to be a vacation home for some rich foreigners. However, no one has lived there for a while. That same night, Anna dreams about seeing a blonde girl at the mansion.
At a local festival, Anna argues with a girl. Then, she runs away and stumbles near the mansion. There, Anna meets the blonde girl of her dreams, Marnie. They become friends.
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When Marnie Was There (Novel)
The next evening, Anna and Marnie meet up again. Marnie invites Anna to a party at the mansion. At the party, Marnie dances with a boy names Kazuhiko, which leaves Anna a little bit jealous. However, Marnie brushes it off and teaches Anna how to dance. The evening ends with Anna falling asleep somewhere else.
While drawing some sketches, Anna meets an older woman named Hisako. Just like Anna, Hisako likes to paint pictures of the abandoned house. She takes a closer look at Anna’s sketches of Marnie and tells her that she once met a girl that looked like her. In addition, she informs Anna that the abandoned mansion has new owners now, hence the renovations.
Once again, Anna runs to the mansion. There, she finds one of the new tenants: a young girl named Sayaka. She’s rather excited with Anna’s presence. Sayaka thinks that Anna is Marnie and tells her that she found her diary in the drawer.
The next day, Marnie and Anna meet up again. They share more personal details about each other. Anna has strong abandonment issues. Although, she knows that her parents died in an accident, she still has feelings of resentment towards them for “leaving her”. In addition, she knows that her foster parents receive money from the government to take care of her. Anna can’t help to feel that her foster parents only want her for the money. However, Marnie disagrees.
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When Marnie Was There (DVD)
Unlike Anna, Marnie’s parents are never home. They are always travelling around the world. Therefore, Marnie has no option but to stay with the maids that constantly bully her when the parents are not around. Once, they threatened to lock Marnie in a silo (near the house), hence Marnie’s fear of that place. Upon hearing this, Anna takes Marnie to the silo to confront her fear. However, Anna falls asleep (once again) and wakes up alone in the silo.
Sayaka finds the missing pages of Marnie’s diary. The name Kazuhiko often appears on the pages describing the silo incident. On her way to find Anna, Sayaka finds her unconscious and laying on the ground. Sayaka and her brother bring Anna back to Setsu and Kiyomasa. Feverish, Anna dreams about confronting Marnie for what happened at the silo. However, Marnie tells Anna that she’s leaving and they won’t be able to see each other any more. But before she leaves, Marnie wants Anna to forgive her for what happened. Though still confused, Anna forgives Marnie.
After recovering from the fever, Anna and Sayaka reach out to Hisako to ask some questions. Hisako tells them about Marnie’s story. When she got older, Marnie and Kazuhiko end up marrying each other. They were happy. Together they had a daughter named Emily. However, after Kazuhiko’s death, Marnie committed herself into a sanatorium. Without anyone to take care of Emily, they sent her to boarding school.
Emily never forgave her mother for abandoning her. Therefore, she ran away. Years later, Emily became pregnant and gave birth to a little girl. However, Emily and her husband got into a car accident. After they died, Marnie offered to take care of the little girl. After Marnie’s death, the little girl went to foster care.
Yoriko arrives to take Anna back home. She shows her a photograph of the mansion and says it belonged to her grandmother. After seeing the name Marnie written in the back, Anna realizes that she is Emily’s daughter and Marnie’s granddaughter. Meanwhile, Yoriko brings up the government payments and reassures Anna that she has always loved her regardless. Anna tells her not to worry. In addition, she calls Yoriko, mother for the first time.
After making peace with her past, Anna says goodbye to her new friends. The last person she says goodbye to is Marnie, who’s waving from the mansion.
When Marnie Was There – Ending Explained
Marnie was Anna’s grandmother, there’s no doubt about that. However, did Anna imagine the whole thing? Was Marnie a ghost?
Anna is an introvert struggling with her own identity. She knows that she was adopted, so there’s still a lot questions running through her head. By the way, Anna didn’t meet Marnie by chance, the visions started after she visited her grandmother’s vacation home. This alone, tells us that, there’s a big spiritual / mystical element present in the story. Whenever Marnie and Anna meet, they are in a different realm, that’s why Anna often wakes up in random places.
There is evidence throughout the film pointing that Marnie is real. First, when Hisako tells Anna that she once knew a girl that looked exactly like Marnie, pointing to the girl that Anna has on her sketches. Another proof that Marnie is not a product of Anna’s imagination is the diary. She experienced everything on that diary, before she read it. In addition, she learned about the ongoing abuse before Marnie’s chilhood friend “Hisako” told her about it. Therefore, whenever Anna saw Marnie, it was real, it was her spirit.
The two meeting up again was a way to bring closure to their relationship. Marnie always felt that she failed as a mother, when she left her daughter and sent her to a boarding school. In addition, she never made up with Emily. So, when she decided to take care of Anna, this was her way to compensate for being an absent mother to Emily. However, she died before Anna could understand what was going on. Therefore, she wanted to meet up with Anna once again to be with her and tell her story. Marnie understands what’s like being alone, she was an only child, whose parents were always away. Anna on the other hand, was too young when her biological parents died. Even with very loving foster parents, Anna always felt inadequate and unwanted. However, her friendship with Marnie broke her a little bit from that shell.
In the end, Anna is a much happier kid because she finally got to know a little bit more about her biological family and what really happened to them: her mother Emily and grandmother Marnie. Her knowing the truth behind their deaths, brought her closure. Anna no longer feels unwanted, as she was loved by both up until their deaths.
Who Is Anna Sasaki? Character Analysis
Anna is not a very charming girl, unlike Marnie. In a way, one can get why Anna is the way she is. Anna equates being adopted to being not love, which is not true.
Yoriko and her husband have always loved Anna. However, Anna has some deep abandonment issues. First, her biological parents died when she was really young. Then, her grandmother, her caretaker dies too. In her mind, they all left her. All these fateful events led Anna to have a very negative image of herself, that’s why she has such a low self-esteem. For instance, she often calls herself ugly. In addition, Anna is extremely shy. She refuses to show her beautiful drawings to others, because she thinks they are not worthy. By the way, lets talk about the incident with Nobuko.
This might sound controversial, but was Nobuko really bullying Anna? You see, Anna is a very insecure person. In addition, she’s a huge introvert, that’s why she keeps a lot of thoughts to herself. You see where the problem is? People can’t read minds. Nobuko was acting normally, but Anna took things the wrong way. That’s why she apologizes in the end, the hostility was all in her head.
When she finally came to terms with her own identity, she became a totally different person. Anna was much more open and jolly, someone that you would like to be friends with. So, the problem wasn’t the way how she looked (as she thought), it was her attitude. When she was waving goodbye to her new friends, she no longer saw herself as a loner, someone that is separate from the crowd. Now, she sees herself as part of it.
When Marnie Was There is without a doubt one of the most beautiful stories that I’ve seen in a while.
The plot twist was original for sure. Marnie is a very charming character, but there’s something off about her. This assumption leads the viewers to assume right from the bat that she’s not real, in other words, human. However, the plot twist revealed to be much better than anyone was expecting.
Although When Marnie Was There is an anime, it’s not really made for children but rather for people that have lived a childhood. An audience that can understand what’s like to be a child dealing with adult problems. In addition, it was refreshing to see an anime that doesn’t shy away from certain difficult topics such as: abuse, neglect and resentment.
There’s only one thing that is a bit unsettling about Marnie: she abandoned her kid. Well, the story says she committed herself into a sanatorium. But couldn’t she pick herself up after the death of her husband? Why did she have to send such a young kid to a boarding school? If you think about it, Marnie never learned how to parent. When she was younger, her parents were always absent. By the way, Kazuhiko (her husband) was her emotional rock, so when he left her, she was devastated, incapable of taking care of herself, let alone her daughter.
Marnie is indeed a very complex human being. However, she was able to get closure at the end when Anna forgives her for leaving her alone at the silo. Anna reassures her that they are still friends (and they will always be), proving their connection was real.
On a final note, the music definitely elevated the quality of the film. By the way, the ending song “Fine On The Outside” by Priscilla Ahn? A real tear-jerker.