Film Review: Whisper of the Heart

Whisper of the Heart

With prices for cinema tickets now reaching ridiculous heights it’s not often I will treat myself to a new release unless it’s something I simply cannot wait for. Instead, I’m happy to content myself with a cheap DVD or a film on TV which may have slipped through my critical net and, believe me, there have been far too many. Whether the films featured here are recent or old I’ll still be providing my honest opinion on them and, with the benefit of hindsight in many cases, may offer a slightly different take to contemporary reviewers.

10) Whisper of the Heart (1995)

Whisper of the HeartI’ll watch anything from Studio Ghibli and at the moment I’m currently working my way slowly through their impressive collection. Up to now the majority of anime films I have enjoyed have been directed by the legendary Hayao Miyazaki. The screenplay for Whisper of the Heart came from the anime genius but was directed by Yoshifumi Kondo who was expected to follow in Miyazaki’s footsteps but for his tragic death in 1998 at 47, the result of an aneurysm, possibly a consequence of the intense workload. With just Whisper of the Heart to his name I was fascinated to see how Kondo would stand up to the great Miyazaki.

Whisper of the Heart tells the story of teenager, Shizuku, who intends on spending her summer reading books from the library and translating John Denver’s song, Take Me Home, Country Roads with her best friend, Yuko. While checking through a selection of books from the library Shizuku realises the same name, Seiji Amasawa, appears on each one and was the last person to check out the book. While helping Yuko with a crush on a boy from school, Shizuku encounters another boy who teases her about everything from her terrible lyrics to the amount of lunch she is carrying (even though the lunch is intended for her father). One day Shizuku encounters a large cat on a train and follows it to an antique shop where she discovers who Seiji Amasawa is. A combination of Seiji, his grandfather who owns the antique shop and a figurine of a cat in a suit, known as the Baron, awakens the creativity in Shizuku who begins a personal journey to realising hidden talent.

As with all Studio Ghibli films, Whisper of the Heart is beautifully animated and rich in detail, be it the packed apartment Shizuku shares with her family or the antique shop. The Baron stood out as one of the highlights for me with his striking eyes, enhanced whenever the sun’s rays fell on them. Whenever I saw the figurine I was willing him to come to life and share in Shizuku’s tale. Japanese society is wonderfully conveyed with family meals, Japan’s electric rail network, sensuous scenery and even delightfully wrapped lunches. Studio Ghibli has always excelled in giving a taster of Japanese life and the more I see, the more I want to go to Japan and experience it all for myself.

Whisper of the Heart is both a moving love story and the pursuit of dreams for the teenagers Shizuku and Seiji. While Shizuku finds her calling in writing, Seiji wishes to be a violin maker but has to travel to Italy for many years to complete an apprenticeship. The behaviour of the two teenagers and their school friends resonated with me from my own school days. The old cliché there was if you insulted someone frequently you obviously liked them and this rings true in Whisper of the Heart, as does the clueless nature of some of the students when they’re informed certain classmates have crushes on them. The excitement of the other students in Shizuku’s blossoming romance was also delightfully silly. At its core is the awakening of creativity and the film is at its best when Shizuku realises she does have potential. After previously criticising her translation of Take Me Home, Country Roads, Seiji agrees to play the violin for Shizuku on the condition she sings and chooses the same song he has teased her about. It’s a standout moment in the film as Shizuku and Seiji combine their talents and are joined by Seiji’s grandfather and his friends.

The film’s title refers to the story Shizuku eventually writes and features the symbolic Baron who has little screen time but remains etched into your memory long after the last credits have passed. The excellent Cary Elwes lends his voice to the Baron and it’s a memorable contribution. The only downside for me was that Elwes is sadly underused in the film, which is a pity. This would be redressed in The Cat Returns where both the Baron and Elwes made a welcome return. Though I enjoyed Whisper of the Heart I felt it wasn’t quite up to the standard of some of Studio Ghibli’s other films such as Spirited Away and Grave of the Fireflies. The underuse of the Baron was a shame and I felt the film did end quite abruptly even though it was an apt conclusion to the romance between Shizuku and Seiji.

Whisper of the Heart is a worthy part of Studio Ghibli’s exemplary collection of anime films. I have no doubt that had he not died so young, Yoshifumi Kondo would have gone on to make many more memorable films. Having a film like Whisper of the Heart as your legacy gives Kondo a perfect record as a director. While not my favourite from Studio Ghibli, Whisper of the Heart should be in the collection of any fan of anime.

Verdict: 8½ /10

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Dave Brown

I was born in Barnsley, South Yorkshire, England and have always been a bookworm and enjoyed creative writing at school. In 1999 I created the Elencheran Chronicles and have been writing ever since. My first novel, Fezariu's Epiphany, was published in May 2011. When not writing I'm a lover of films, games, books and blogging. I live in Barnsley, with my wife, Donna, and our six cats - Kain, Razz, Buggles, Charlie, Bilbo and Frodo.
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