Anna Sasaki (アンナ佐々木 Sasaki Anna) is the core protagonist of When Marnie Was There film.
Anna was born and raised in the city of Sapporo. Anna's parents died when she was one or two years old so Anna's grandmother took care of her until she too passed away when Anna was two years old. At her grandmother's funeral, Anna sat alone in a corner with her doll that resembled a preteen version of her grandmother crying while her grandmother's acquaintances discussed what to do with Anna, a couple with an infant son was asked to take Anna but they refused and since nobody was able or wanted to care for Anna she was sent to an orphanage with nothing but a blue hairclip her grandmother used to wear and an old photo of her grandmother's childhood home.
Anna was eventually adopted at the age of five by Yoriko Sasaki and her husband. When Anna's new parents brought her home, Yoriko was euphoric and wanted to make up for the five years she didn't spend with Anna so she taught Anna lots of things like how to use a knife, although she always got worried about something and often called Setsu for help. Overall, Anna had a happy childhood with her adopted family.
Sometime after she turned twelve, Anna found out that the government sent her foster parents money to take care of her, leading the young girl to think that that her adoptive parents only took Anna in for money and this lead her to distance herself from her parents as well as calling Yoriko "Aunty" even though she was her adoptive mother. She also preferred to be alone rather than hanging out with other kids at school yet all of her friends seemed to like her to an extent. Yoriko believed that Anna's behavior was the result of her being upset because of her adoptive father often being too busy with work, with him being away for business trips all the time, or the fact that they are not blood related to her.
During a field trip that took place almost at the end of the school year, Anna is sitting at a bench in a park drawing and when her art teacher asked to see her work Anna was strongly hesitant. However after her art teacher had to turn their attention to another student who had hurt themselves Anna appears to suffer an attack of sorts as she gasps for air and tightly hugs her art book and her pencil snaps against it. Afterwards, Anna is taken home and we learn that Anna suffers from asthma while Miyoko and other girls from Anna's class took the time to bring Anna's school supplies back to her mother, who asked them about Anna since the latter never talks to her about school or her friends. Miyoko tells her that Anna is nice but very quiet, leading to one of the girls trying to joke about it but is stopped by Miyoko who claims that they just talk a lot. However, this did not ease Yoriko's concerns about her daughter since she believes Anna to be a loner at school. While Anna is busy sharpening her pencils and looking at her drawings in her room, Yoriko voices her concerns about Anna to Doctor Yamashita, who suggests that Anna takes time away from city life and stay in the countryside to help alleviate her symptoms of her asthma even though school hadn't ended yet so Yoriko sends Anna to a rural town called Kissakibetsu to stay with Yoriko's relatives, whom Anna had only met a couple of times as a young child.
Off to Kissakibetsu
Since her parents cannot come with her, Anna is made to travel by herself to her relatives' hometown, with Yoriko telling her to eat well, behave and buys her lots of snacks for the trip, although Anna simply brushes off her concerns. Upon arriving to the station, she is greeted by her mother's relatives, Setsu and Kiyomasa Ōiwa, who give her a warm welcome and take her to their house in the quietest part of town. Setsu briefly talks to Anna about her life and her own children and allows Anna to sleep in her daughter's old bedroom. After settling down, Anna writes a letter to Yoriko and takes it to the post office where she is spotted by the locals Nobuko Kadoya and her mother but Anna, who doesn't seem to like being around strangers, runs away when she notices them. As she runs, Anna sees an abandoned mansion across a salt marsh and goes to investigate. She looks around the mansion, finding herself drawn to it, but gets trapped there by the rising tide until she is found by Toichi, a taciturn old fisherman, who agrees to take her back home, much to Setsu and Kiyomasa's surprise since the elderly man is not very sociable. Setsu tells her that the mansion used to be a vacation home for wealthy foreigners, but it has been empty for a long time while Kiyomasa warns her to stay away from the mansion since the townsfolk believe it to be haunted. The next day, Setsu and Anna have to deliver lanterns for Mrs. Kadoya and the two women arrange for the girls to go to the Tanabata Festival together, with Setsu letting Anna borrow her daughter's yukata for her to wear. Meanwhile, Anna continues to sit by the river to draw but ends up running away when she once again sees Nobuko staring at her. That night, Anna dreams of seeing a blonde haired girl in the mansion. Anna wakes up and sees that the yukata is already hung up in her room and ready for the festival, much to Anna's chagrin since she hates festivals.
On the night of the Tanabata Festival, Anna does her best to go through with it until she gets mad at Nobuko Kadoya when she reads out loud Anna's card where she wrote that she wished to "live a normal life everyday" and when she drawed attention to Anna's blue eyes she grew overwhelmed, called Nobuko a "fat pig" and ran away despite Nobuko's offer to forget about the incident, when she got to the marsh she began to lose her breath and started crying. After calming down Anna decides to head home, but she sees a boat with a lit candle. She then got into a boat and tried to head to the mansion but the paddles get stuck and she meets a blonde haired girl identical to the one in her dream named Marnie who helps her out. While out on the water, the two agree to keep their meeting secret and agree to meet again on the next evening. Anna returns to the Oiwa residence to find her aunt being yelled at by Nobuko's mother, who complains about Anna insulting Nobuko and lying about Anna threatening her daughter with a blade, she even calls Anna a delinquent, although her uncle and aunt don't believe her and don't punish Anna but instead urge her to apologize to Nobuko for insulting her but are shocked that the woman called Anna a delinquent. The next night, Marnie ad Anna make proper introductions over a picnic and play together. Marnie then invites Anna to a party at the mansion which Anna does not like since party's aren't her thing. While there, Anna sees Marnie dancing with a boy named Kazuhiko. Later that night, a father and son find Anna asleep by the post office and take her back to her relatives, with Setsu carrying Anna home. The next day, Anna returns to the mansion but it appears abandoned and dilapidated again.
A week later, 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. She also tells Anna that the mansion is being renovated for new owners. Anna runs to the mansion where she meets a girl named Sayaka, who discovered Marnie's diary hidden in a drawer.
The next day, Marnie reappears and the two girls discuss their home lives. Anna admits to finding government documents that show how her foster parents are paid to take care of her. Anna makes the assumption that they only pretend to love her for the money. Marnie then shares with Anna how her mother and father are always traveling abroad, and how she is always left in the mansion with her nanny and two maids. The maids abuse her, and 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, only to find Marnie gone.
Meanwhile, Sayaka finds the missing pages from Marnie's diary, which include passages about Kazuhiko and the nearby silo. Sayaka and her brother find Anna unconscious and bring her back to the Oiwas. In her feverish state, Anna dreams about confronting Marnie, who tells Anna she is sorry for leaving her and that she cannot see Anna anymore.
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: Marnie married Kazuhiko and they had a daughter named Emily. Kazuhiko died from a sudden illness and Marnie committed herself to a sanatorium. With no other family to care for her, Emily was sent to a boarding school at a young age. Marnie recovered and went back for Emily when she was thirteen but she blamed her mother for abandoning her. Emily eventually got pregnant, ran away with the baby's father and had a daughter herself but she and her husband were killed in a car accident. Marnie raised her granddaughter and did her best to make sure her grandchild never felt alone and gifted her her blue hairpin, but Marnie never got over Emily's death and ended up dying shortly after that, with her granddaughter being sent to an orphanage.
At the end of the summer, Yoriko arrives in town to take Anna home, she sees Anna and Sayaka talking on the boat and when Anna sees Yoriko she gets up and rocks the boat. After Anna is done packing up, Yoriko gives Anna a photograph of the mansion and says it belonged to Anna's grandmother and Anna always carried it with her as a young child, which is the same mansion where Marnie and now Sayaka live. When Anna sees Marnie's name written on the back, she realizes that she is Emily's daughter, and thus Marnie's granddaughter. This revelation helps to bring Anna closure about her identity. Yoriko also tells Anna about the government payments and while she tries to insists that whether or not they are paid to watch Anna they lover just the same. Anna tells her that she knew about the payments all along but doesn't care anymore as she does love her.
During the end credits, Setsu and Kiyomasa drive Yoriko and Anna to the train station, with Anna holding her sketchbook (which now has the picture of Marnie colored in) and a wooden owl that Kiyomasa gifted her, only making a stop so that Anna can say goodbye to Hisako, Sayaka and Toichi, and introduces Yoriko as her mother to Hisako, and apologizes to Nobuko for her harsh words before seeing Marnie at the mansion window waving goodbye to her.
Anna has a pixie cut, chin length wavy brown hair and blue eyes. She wears a few outfits through the movie but she typically dresses in red shorts, light blue sneakers, and various blue shirts. At the Tanabata festival, she wears a pink yukata with pink and blue flowers that belonged to Setsu Oiwa's daughter. By the end of the movie, she starts wearing her grandmother's hairpin again.
Anna is a caring, curious, and introspective person. She is usually polite with her elders, especially her aunt and uncle but doesn't talk unless it's necessary. She is an artist, and is often carrying around her sketchbook although at first she believed that she wasn't good at drawing when in fact she is great at it. The drawings shown in the movie are mostly of landscapes, such as the playground in the beginning, the marsh house, Marnie's house and Marnie herself.
Anna has a low self-esteem, deeming herself worthless, ugly, awkward, a nuisance and abnormal. Her social anxiety is also very prevalent, causing her to struggle in large crowds and interaction with people, cutting herself away from others, which is usually mistaken for shyness. She suppresses her emotions, usually donning on a neutral expression, and is also very prone to emotional outbursts, suddenly changing moods but with the help of Marnie and Sayaka, Anna starts to open up and becomes slightly more upbeat, smiling more, apologizing to Nobuko for hurting her feelings and even referring to Yoriko as her mother.
- Unnamed biological great-grandparents (deceased)
- Kazuhiko (biological grandfather; deceased)
- Marnie (biological grandmother; deceased)
- Emily (biological mother; deceased)
- Unnamed biological father (deceased)
- Yoriko Sasaki (adoptive mother)
- Mr. Sasaki (adoptive father)
- Setsu Oiwa (adoptive aunt)
- Kiyomasa Ōiwa (adoptive uncle)
- Oiwa children (adoptive cousins)
- Both of Anna's birth and adoptive fathers remain nameless and were only seen in either pictures or flashbacks.
- Anna is similar of Satsuki Kusakabe from My Neighbor Totoro; also with another similar and based from Princess Mei Li from The Swan Princess series.
- Anna likes to use a paper cutting blade to sharpen her pencils.
- Anna has very little memories of her grandmother, including her funeral and her time in the orphanage but seems to have none of her biological parents.