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Film Review: Whisper of the Heart
In 1995, Yoshifumi Kondo released Whisper of the Heart, based on the 1989 manga of the same name by Aoi Hiiragi. Starring Yoko Honna, Issei Takahashi, Shigeru Muroi, Takashi Tachibana, Shigeru Tsuyuguchi, Keiju Kobayashi, Maiko Kayama, Minami Takayama, Mayumi Iizuka, Mai Chiba, and Yoshimi Nakajima with English voices provided by Brittany Snow, David Gallagher, Jean Smart, James Sikking, Cary Elwes, Harold Gould, Ashley Tisdale, and Martin Spanjers, the film earned ¥ 1.85 billion in distribution income. It was included in Time Out London’s Top 50 Animated Films List as well as Film4’s Top 25 Animated Films List and a spinoff film was produced in 2002 called The Cat Returns.
Junior high school student Shizuku Tsukishima loves books and has given herself the goal to read 30 over summer vacation. However, she soon notices that someone named Seiji Amasawa has previously checked out all the books she is reading, leaving her intrigued. The next day though, she follows a cat to an antique shop owned by a man named Nishi who has a cat figurine dressed in formal wear that he calls the Baron. Shizuku returns the next day to find that a boy she finds annoying is Seiji Amasawa and not only does he have a passion for making violins, but he’s also been checking out Shizuku’s books hoping she notices him.
The first Studio Ghibli film to be directed by someone other than Miyazaki or Takahata, Whisper of the Heart may not be as good as previous films the studio has put out, but is still a wonderful and well-made film. An interesting aspect to the film is Shizuku herself, who has a great passion for the fantastic, initially seen when it comes to reading fairy tales and eventually her desire to be a fantasy novelist. Further, she’s also established as enjoying the company of her friends, especially when it comes to figuring out how to translate John Denver’s “Take Me Home, Country Roads.” Still, she’s not a perfect person and before she commits full time to her dreams of being a novelist, she’s seen as neglectful of her studies and schoolwork due to how she’d rather be reading those fairy tales.
At the same time, it’s really her dreams that define Shizuku as a character. Before she decides she has the dream of writing a fantasy novel, she was neglectful of her studies in favor of reading. Yet as the film progresses, she gets it in her head to write a novel which eventually becomes her all-encompassing dream. While this still gets in the way of her schoolwork, seeing as she’s up all night writing, it ends up defining her character as stated earlier. It shows that she’s not content to conform to society’s desires that she go to high school and then college, but that she’s going to be a dreamer and go in the exact opposite direction. The film also shows just how Japanese it really is when her parents find out about her desires and while they give her the leeway to go about doing it, it’s clear they don’t approve and tell her that if she fails, it’s her own fault
Nishi is another very interesting character found in the film, notable for the backstory that encompasses him and his statue of The Baron. He’s actually a tragic character, considering that while he was a student in Germany, he found love but the two of them were ripped away from each other when World War II broke out. What’s more is that his love, Louise, has the partner to The Baron and neither Nishi nor Louise have seen each other since then.
One of the odder aspects to the film is the romance between Shizuku and Seiji. While it’s not particularly odd to have a junior high/high school romance, it’s the way these two carry themselves that’s a little bit strange. The film ends with Seiji returning from Italy and proposing to Shizuku. Interestingly, the ending was Miyazaki’s idea and he said he wanted the two of them to commit to something. While that may be a great idea, having two young people who are still in school and who just met earlier in the year committing to marriage comes off as the two of them rushing headstrong into an idea they’re barely ready for. Further, with the two of them being so young, the relationship is bound to head into the rocky territory that many school romances find themselves in, many of which don’t survive past high school or college. Still though, it’s a Ghibli film so it may not have any of those problems.
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