Going Down The List: Omoide no Marnie


Known in English as “When Marnie Was There”, which is also the title of the 1967 novel by Joan G. Robinson on which the movie is based. The movie, directed by Hiromasa Yonebayashi, is the latest (and possibly the last) film by Studio Ghibli. It’s also my favourite Ghibli film, and possibly my favourite anime film overall. The reason for this is that I feel like the characters, especially Anna, are very good at portraying the thin line between order and chaos in the human mind, and especially how maintaining that balance can take a toll on how people seem on the outside (in addition to the stress that it causes on the inside). As I said in my post on Arrietty, I think Yonebayashi already did a good job of exploring a wide range of emotions in that movie, but Marnie takes it further and commits to it fully.

On the “outside”, When Marnie Was There is not that different from most other Ghibli Films. There’s a main character, in this case Anna, and the mysterious and somewhat magical heroine of the story, the eponymous Marnie. Though the film doesn’t go quite as wild with its fantasy elements as, for instance, Miyazaki’s films, many of the same types of character interaction are there. Anna and Marnie meet in secret, get depressed when they have to be apart, and rejoice when they meet each other again. However, what Anna does when she’s not together with Marnie is what sets the movie apart from other Ghibli films. Anna starts the film by stating that she hates herself. Through a series of scenes near the beginning of the movie and later on, we learn that Anna has trust issues, and she feels like she has no one she can lean on when she’s hurting. In return, she pushes other people away, either by ignoring them or by being mean toward them.

But, that in itself is not automatically noteworthy, nor is the fact that Anna is sent to the countryside because she experiences asthma-like symptoms. Being sent elsewhere because of health-related reasons is not uncommon in anime, but the way it’s handled in When Marnie Was There is very interesting. It’s never portrayed as some undefined mystery somatic illness, nor is Anna judged “for having a weak body” (except maybe by herself, in her own opinion). It’s heavily implied that the symptoms may be caused, or exacerbated, by psychological factors. In the city, Anna is under constant psychological stress due to her foster parents and having to interact with people in school, so it makes sense she’d feel unwell. As we learn later on she’s also very introverted, and this defines how she interacts with the people in the countryside. She prefers one-on-one conversations in private places. She can even relax and be calm when she finds a fisherman who rarely talks. Anna is not a misanthrope, she just can’t deal with people who talk and pry a lot. That’s why she sometimes lashes out and hurts people for seemingly no reason.

And it’s in this way that I mainly relate to Anna. The way her introversion is portrayed is the closest any anime has come to reminding me of myself. My introversion doesn’t mean that I can’t talk to strangers or that I am comfortable only around people I’m familiar with, it’s actually quite the opposite. Being around strangers is totally fine, and I don’t even mind when they talk to me (unless they ask or pry too much). Friends and family, on the other hand, almost always pry, which is why I’m terrified of meeting any of them in public. But enough about me. My favourite thing about the movie is the way it “solves Anna’s problem”. That is, it’s not really a catch-all kind of solution, it’s just a small step toward a slightly brighter future. Most importantly, though, the change comes from within Anna herself, not anyone else. Anna doesn’t have an epiphany, there’s no eureka moment, she just decides to do some things differently, because she feels that’s the best thing for her. As I said, though, this is neither a perfect solution nor a complete solution to anything, and the ED (by Priscilla Ahn) emphasises that. Anna looks fine on the outside, and she’s now a little bit more fine on the inside, but there’s a whole lot more to her than those tiny parts. The problem is that when a person looks fine on the outside, it’s not always easy to remember that the vast majority of them is hidden on the inside.

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