Whisper of the Heart (1995)
Directed by Yoshifumi Kondo
Featuring the voices of Brittany Snow, David Gallagher, Ashley Tisdale, Cary Elwes and Jean Smart
Who is Whisper of the Heart aimed at? It's animated, so it must be for children? The lead characters are young teens and there's a strong romantic element, so is it aimed at teens? I'm a 51-year-old man who doesn't have any children, but I love every minute of this film.
If you are a fan of Studio Ghibli, you'll know that Hayao Miyazaki has directed most of the studio's work. Yoshifumi Kondo directed this time, but Miyazaki wrote the screenplay, and his influence can be felt rather than seen. Whisper of the Heart is set in the real world and only contains the tiniest of fantasy references. It's a coming-of-age tale that just about everyone can identify with. Even if you are not a child, a teen, or a parent, you will remember living through similar moments to those depicted in this story.
Shizuku is a 14-year-old girl who focuses most of her attention on school, reading, and studying. One day, she notices that almost every book she borrows from the library has previously been checked out by Seiji Amasawa. She becomes curious about him, and wonders how someone could have such similar tastes to her own. At school, she's a good student, and goes through the typical things that most young girls experience. She talks to her girlfriends about boys, but writing is her real passion. She impresses her friends by writing song lyrics.
Her life changes when she encounters a cat on the train, and she follows it after it gets off at her stop. It leads her to an antiques store, owned by an old man. The man turns out to be the grandfather of the mysterious Seiji, and the two finally meet.
Although Shizuki studies hard, she has little idea of what she wants to do with her life. Seiji and his grandfather provide the inspiration she has been lacking, and she soon realizes that her true passion in life is writing. Seiji's passion is making violins, and the old man spends his time restoring antiques. This new focus means that her studies start to suffer, and she has to decide whether her writing is more important to her.
That sounds like a boring story, but it's nothing of the sort. There are no villains, no explosions, and not a lot of humor, but it's a sweet story with real characters that are easy to like and care about. You might find yourself remembering key moments in your own childhood, or perhaps wondering how different your life would have been if you had chosen a different path.
The film includes well-developed relationships with friends, parents, and siblings. Shizuku's parents are supportive, but realistic about their daughter's choices. There's a lot of respect present in her relationships with family, and the other people in her life. In typical Studio Ghibli fashion, Miyazaki's script includes many instances where characters stop and reflect on their actions. The animation includes little touches which add to the realism. For example, how many animated movies take the time to show someone using a vacuum cleaner?
The story is so realistic that I could imagine it having a positive influence on young teens or even parents. The messages are all positive, and they fit well with the story. My favorite Studio Ghibli films do include strong fantasy elements, but Whisper of the Heart is close to perfect while remaining firmly in the real world. These events could actually happen. It reminds me that Miyazaki must be a keen observer of human nature.
I've seen the film several times, and it always reaches me emotionally. The themes are simple and universal. I urge you to give it a try, even if you think that the genre isn't something you would normally enjoy. It's one for the whole family. If you do end up loving Whisper of the Heart, one of the characters also appears in The Cat Returns, and that's well worth your time as well.
Overall score 4.5/5
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