Like most of the internet, I was devastated when I learned that Studio Ghibli was making no more feature movies after When Marnie Was There. What made this news particularly hard for me was I had just gotten into Studio Ghibli movies courtesy of my awesome girlfriend. It was like I just met an awesome person. Then, the very next day, they had been diagnosed with terminal cancer and given a month to live. To put it simply, I was depressed, also because I wasn’t having the best time in life then. I didn’t know what the world of anime would be like without more of these amazing movies which had suddenly became a big part of my life. I can only imagine what it must have been like to learn it for those who always knew this awesome friend.
When Marnie Was There (Japanese Omoide No Mani, Marnie of My Memories) is the second Ghibli film directed by Hiromasa Yonebayashi, his first was The Secret World of Arrietty. It is the story of two young girls. Anna is a very introverted girl with a talent for art. She feels like a burden on the world and hates herself for it. She is raised by her foster parents whom she feels distant from. Anna is sickly, so she moves to the country with her aunt to relax. She finds a mysterious house on the shore, which she runs away to after a bad Tanabata celebration. It is here that she meets Marnie, the other main protagonist. In contrast to Anna, Marnie is extroverted, spirited, and nurturing. She lives in a mysterious mansion where it seems people are only there at random times. The two girls then have several wonderful scenes of growth between them, like a scene where Marnie rows her across a lake, a dance party, and playing in the woods. It’s nice to watch them interact. We slowly learn that Marnie’s world isn’t so perfect either. Her parents are almost never around, and her nanny is abusive. In many ways, Marnie is just as depressed as Anna. They both come to rely on each other.
Anna (left), and Marnie (right).
So when I watched When Marnie Was There, I was fully prepared to go on being sad and forlorn at the swansong of Studio Ghibli. This made the movie have a very personal thing for me. I felt like Anna, who had just met the mysterious Marnie who took me on wonderful adventures and taught me a little more about myself each time. The beautifully animated world and the haunting soundtrack by Priscilla Ahn transported me to the Japanese countryside and the mysterious manor on the shore.
I tend to be a person who likes action stories. This doesn’t mean I’m simple-minded and don’t care about characters or plot. This just means I like it when those all blended together with awesome action. Before watching When Marnie Was There, my favorite Ghibli movie were Princess Mononoke and Howl’s Moving Castle, both of which have very deep story and characterization along with several epic action scenes. When Marnie Was There was so awesome it didn’t need any of my usual pleasures like mecha, sword fights, or violence of any kind. The movies I mentioned are both legendary, and I believe Marnie deserves a place with them. Everything about it was so captivating and enthralling.
As much as I love action, I must concede that character depth makes a story more. And the battles Anna and Marnie go through to find happiness are no less epic and mind-blowing than the first time I saw the Death Star explode.
To not spoil too much, they reach a point where Anna starts to learn the truth of this mysterious Marnie, and they are forced away from each other. I saw this event coming from the moment I saw Marnie stand over the boat Anna was in and ask if she was all right. My body was ready for the overload of feels. But when it happened, I was surprised. I was sad, but something else stirred within me, something I did not expect in my dour state. I was happy.
Why was I happy? Not because these two wonderful friends had parted, but because they called out to something more important. Anna wouldn’t be able to see Marnie again, but she would still be with her. How? In her memories. Anna would never forget everything she learned from her time with Marnie. Her heart had grown so much more than just two sizes. And Anna would always remember her. I like the Japanese title much better for this reason. When Marnie Was There, a title that talks about what I was like when a special person was there and implies an absence. Marnie of My Memories, a title that says that this special person continues to live on, continues to make life matter in the heart of the person. Marnie of my Memories, Marnie who will forever live in my memories.
So by the time the credits rolled, my aforementioned sadness about Studio Ghibli’s future seemed to vanish. Like Anna, whose life was transformed by Marnie, I too was transformed by this wonderful, ephemeral blonde girl in the strange house. Just like Marnie survived through Anna’s memories, so will Studio Ghibli in mine. The wonderful stories, the beautiful world, the fantastic characters; all will stay with me forever. Because as they say in Spirited Away,” Once you’ve met someone, you never really forget them.”. I believe the chorus of Priscilla Ahn’s song I Am Not Alone on the album she made for this movie Just Know That I Love You sums it up.
So I cry in the night
For something I found in my heart
There’s a star in the sky
Guiding me Home through the dark
If you call out my name
I know I’ll see you again
I’ll remember I am not alone.
So I will always treasure Studio Ghibli. But I will also have open eyes. This grand farewell from the past has taught me to look to the future. Currently, I not so patiently await the fourth Rebuild of Evangelion movie. But even when that ends, I will not weep for its end, I will go on, knowing that it too will always be a part of my life. I probably will cry, but that’s because every one of the Rebuild movies so far has made me cry. I will be glad that Shinji taught me how to face every foe, whether without or within, and will live on fighting like he did.
Have any of you seen When Marnie Was There? If you have, what are your thoughts on it? And what do you all think about Studio Ghibli no longer making feature-length movies and (it seems) Hayao Miyzaki’s real retirement (They are making a tv show called Ronja The Robber’s Daughter)? Do you think I become way too invested in the stories of depressed teen girls? Don’t be a stranger, leave your thoughts below!