It was the final film for Studio Ghibli, before they announced that its division would take a short hiatus after The Tale of the Princess Kaguya, and the retirement of Hayao Miyazaki a year before the film was released. It also marked the final film credit for Studio Ghibli animator Makiko Futaki. It was also the final film that Yonebayashi directed for Ghibli before he decided to quit the studio. The film was released in theatres on 19 July 2014,, six years since the same date since 2008's Ponyo on the Cliff by the Sea, and on Blu-ray and DVD in Japan on 18 March 2015. It was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Animated Feature at the 88th Academy Awards.
Anna Sasaki is an introverted 12-year-old girl living in Sapporo with foster parents, Yoriko and her husband. Anna is distant and unhappy with them, because she finds out that they receive money from the government to take care of her but will not discuss her feelings, leaving her foster parents mystified and worried by her behaviour. One day at school, she collapses from an asthma attack and her parents send her to spend the summer with Setsu and Kiyomasa Oiwa, relatives of Yoriko, in a rural, seaside town where the air is clear, located between Kushiro and Nemuro.
Anna sees an abandoned mansion, dilapidated and overgrown, across a salt marsh and wades across the marsh to investigate it. She looks around, wondering why it seems so familiar to her, but gets trapped there by the rising tide. Toichi, a taciturn old fisherman, brings her back to the pier with his rowboat, and Anna sees the house for a moment in good repair and well-lit. When she returns to the Oiwa's, Setsu tells her that the mansion used to be a vacation home for some foreigners, but that it has been empty for a long time. Starting that night, Anna has dreams of seeing a blonde girl in the mansion, having her hair brushed by an old woman.
On the night of the Tanabata festival, Anna fights with Nobuko Kadoya about her blue eyes, an unusual feature which Anna cannot explain because she does not know who her biological family is. As she runs away, she discovers a rowboat by the shore and rows it across the marsh to the mansion, where she meets Marnie, the blonde girl. Anna tells Marnie about her dreams, but Marnie assures Anna that she is not dreaming now. The two agree to keep their meeting secret and they meet again on the next evening. Marnie invites Anna to a party at the mansion, which is filled with guests. Marnie disguises Anna as a local flower girl to get her into the party. While there, Anna sees Marnie dancing with a boy named Kazuhiko. Later some townspeople find Anna asleep by the post office. The next day, Anna returns to the mansion, but it appears abandoned and dilapidated again.
One week later, while sitting on the shore sketching in a sketchbook, Anna meets Hisako, an older woman who paints pictures of the marsh and the mansion. Hisako comments that Anna's sketches look like a girl whom she knew when she was young, and she used to live in the mansion. She also tells her that the mansion is being renovated because someone is moving in. Anna runs to the mansion, where she meets a girl named Sayaka, who discovers Marnie's diary hidden in the drawer. The diary includes an account of the party with the flower girl. Several pages are missing at the end of the diary.
The next day, Marnie reappears and tells Anna about how her parents are always traveling abroad, how they leave her in the mansion with her nanny and two maids, and how they abuse her physically and psychologically and that they used to threaten to lock her in the silo near the mansion. Anna leads Marnie to the silo, where she helps her confront her fear. Anna wakes up at the stairway, only to find Marnie gone. Meanwhile, Sayaka finds the missing pages from Marnie's diary, which include passages about Kazuhiko and the nearby abandoned feed silo. Sayaka and her brother head outside to the fields and bring the unconscious Anna to her relatives' house. While in her feverish state, Anna has a dream about confronting Marnie, who tells Anna she is sorry for leaving her and that she cannot see Anna anymore. Marnie begs Anna for forgiveness and sadly vows to remember Marnie and the things she did for her, as she is swept away by the tide.
When Anna recovers from her fever, Sayaka shows her the missing pages and a painting Hisako gave to Marnie. They converse with Hisako, who tells them about Marnie's story, that she married Kazuhiko and had a daughter named Emily, Kazuhiko died from an illness, Marnie was committed to a psychiatric hospital and Emily was sent to boarding school. After Marnie was released, Emily blamed Marnie for abandoning her. Emily ran away and had a daughter herself, but she and her husband were killed in a car accident when their daughter was one year old. Marnie raised her granddaughter, who was placed in foster care after Marnie's death.
At the end of the summer, Yoriko goes to the town to take Anna home. She gives Anna a photograph of the mansion and says it belonged to Anna's grandmother. When Anna sees Marnie's name written on the back, she realizes that she is Emily's daughter and Marnie's granddaughter, and that Marnie was in fact a ghost. This revelation helps to bring Anna closure about her identity, her unusual blue eyes and, most importantly, that she was loved and wanted by her biological family. Yoriko also tells Anna about the government payments for her care. However, Anna admits she knew about the payments but now no longer cares about them. For the first time, Anna calls Yoriko her mother. During the end credits, Anna says goodbye to the friends she met in town, before seeing Marnie in the mansion waving goodbye to her, as Yoriko drives Anna back home.
When Marnie Was There Soundtrack Music Collection, known as Omoide no Marnie Santora Ongaku Shuu (思い出のマーニーサントラ音楽集) in Japan, is a two-disc soundtrack and image song album that was released on CD in Japan and in 113 countries worldwide (including Japan) as a digital download on the iTunes Store on 16 July 2014. The first "Image Song" disc features music composed to express the personality of the characters and feel of places in the film. The second disc features all the background music for the film. Priscilla Ahn, the writer and performer of the movie's theme song, "Fine on the Outside", also released an accompanying album to the film called Just Know That I Love You on July 16, 2014.
Marnie was released in Japan on 19 July 2014. On 14 January 2015, GKIDS announced that they would be distributing the film for a North American release. The film premièred at the New York International Children's Film Festival on 27 February 2015. The film had its UK premiere during the BFI London Film Festival on 10 October 2015 with a wider release scheduled for 10 June 2016.
The film was released on Blu-ray and DVD in Japan on 18 March 2015, and released on Blu-ray and DVD in America on 6 October 2015.
Marnie opened at third place, grossing ¥379 million during its opening weekend in Japan. By its fourth weekend, it had earned ¥2.08 billion, made an additional ¥930 million in its next two weekends, and had a total of ¥3.63 billion by its eighth weekend. In North America, the film had grossed US$186,844 by its third weekend.
Following the success of the film, Robinson's original novel experienced a boost in sales internationally. Her agent Caroline Sheldon sold the rights of the book to 10 countries, including Japan, Italy, Spain and China. The book was also re-released in English by HarperCollins Children's Books as part of its classics range.
Marnie received critical acclaim from critics. On review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes the film has a rating of 92%, based on 86 reviews, with an average of 7.5/10. The site's critical consensus reads, "When Marnie Was There is still blessed with enough visual and narrative beauty to recommend, even if it isn't quite as magical as Studio Ghibli's greatest works." On Metacritic, the film has a score of 72 out of 100, based on 22 critics, indicating "generally favorable reviews".