NOTE: If you haven’t watched Whisper of the Heart yet, I’d strongly advise you to stop reading this article and go watch the film right now (not the English dub, the original Japanese dub).
If you’re a Hayao Miyazaki fan, Studio Ghibli fan, anime fan, or animation fan, then it’s most likely that you’ve already seen Whisper of the Heart. I’m just writing this article for the ones who haven’t seen it because I don’t think many have. Take my word for it: those who haven’t watched it should watch it.
In Tokyo there lives a young schoolgirl named Shizuku who’s planning to stay the whole summer reading books. After checking out some library books, she discovers that all these books have been previously checked out by a guy named Seiji Amasawa. Shizuku discovers who he is, a guy who decides he wants to be a master luthier (violin maker to be precise) and is testing out his skills. Inspired by his devotion to his dream, she decides to test her writing skills and devote herself to write a fantasy story featuring a cat figurine named the Baron. Here’s a little trivia for some of you who don’t know: even though the Baron appeared a few times in the film, he had gained a cult following which lead to the spin-off film named The Cat Returns… solely for this character’s popularity. So he’s KINDA like the Boba Fett of this film.
A common misconception is to call this a Hayao Miyazaki film. He only wrote the screenplay. The director of this film was a man called Yoshifumi Kondo who was a key animator in Studio Ghibli and has worked alongside Hayao Miyazaki and Isao Takahata for a long time. He was actually expected to be one of the top directors like Miyazaki and Takahata, and even the successor to the studio. He sadly passed away three years after the film’s release. This film was his first and unfortunately last film. It’s such a shame, because to me this is the best not-Hayao Miyazaki film from Studio Ghibli (although technically Miyazaki wrote it), and this was an outstanding piece of work!
Something you should know is that in Japan elementary students need to apply to a high school just like applying to a university. Since high schools in Japan are very picky on who they select, the students have to get really good grades in order to be accepted. Shizuku decides to risk her mid-terms and put everything else aside just so that she can finish her novel, which causes her grades to drop. She’s kinda trying to be like Seiji. For Seiji’s age, he seems to know exactly what he wants in life and even considers skipping high school for it. She wants to be as devoted to an ambition as Seiji is to his. By trying to devote herself to an ambition would mean (to her) that she’s good enough for him.
This film primarily plays with the concept of “someone trying to achieve their dreams”. The concept is changed to where a dreams starts. When do they discover that they have a passion on something? How will this little knowledge change your attitude about your own future? It’s a film about growth, but it’s also about discovering who you are and where you’ll see yourself in a few years. It’s about making the decisions that’ll heavily affect your future. You aren’t just thinking about some hobby or talent that you really like; you’re deciding what you want to do for the rest of your life. That’s really heavy stuff! Well, it’s Studio Ghibli, so they usually do good stuff like this.
It’s follows the mood and tone of Kiki’s Delivery Service… actually, these two films are really similar, especially with the themes of identity and growth. In Kiki’s Delivery Service, Kiki’s does a year training as a witch away from home in a new town. It’s about Kiki earning her independence and about the fears that come along with this journey. When I really think about it, Kiki hasn’t really chosen what she wanted to do in life: it just so happened that her only magical ability was flying. As seen in the film, we notice how she’s questions herself and constantly compares herself to the more fashionable and sociable girls in the small city. Not only is it all much harder than she imagined, but is being a witch all that she is? Is flying just a job for her or a talent that she should be extremely proud of? She needs to find inspiration in herself somehow. I think these challenges explored in Kiki’s was something that Whisper of the Heart followed up to. Both films are great by all respects, but I’m writing an article about Whisper of the Heart because I think more people have heard of Kiki’s over this one. Anyway, I could easily relate to these girls at the time, but I actually relate to Kiki a bit more (but that’s another story).
The romance between Shizuku and Seiji is just perfect. It ties in with the themes of the film, it’s what starts the film, drives the movie forward and it’s what inspires Shizuku to write in the first place. It starts out as a crush, but then they treat it as something more afterwards. Love plays a central role in the story and is thematically appropriate to the idea of making decisions about your future and making commitments.
All in all, Whisper of the Heart is my film recommendation for today. It’s a wonderful, mature, well-written, well-constructed, well-directed, uplifting and highly inspiring film for those who want to discover themselves. Even though the film’s advertising in Japan made it appear as if it were a fantasy, the fantasy segments are actually pretty short. It’s rare to not have a Ghibli film with little to no fantasy elements in them. But even as a slice of life (a common genre in anime), there is something magical about this film: the beauty of self-discovery.
I’m not really reviewing the film more than I am making a film analysis of its themes. I’m more recommending this film than I am reviewing it. If you want a much more detailed review of this film, watch JesuOtaku’s review. She’s an Internet reviewer (mostly reviews anime) who decided to do a “Month of Miyazaki” and review every single Studio Ghibli film (then why not call it “Month of Studio Ghibli”?) Here’s her non-spoiler review of Whisper of the Heart:
Watch the movie and make up your own mind about it. I recommend you to watch it in Japanese with English subtitles. Let’s just say some of the things will get lost in translation in the adapted script, especially through some of the dialogue delivery. The English dub isn’t bad, but I think the original language makes the film come across much more powerfully. As you watch it either in Japanese or English, think about your ambitions, your passions, your hopes and dreams. You might discover something else about yourself through this film.