Milly Schaefer June 5, 2007
Watching an anime twice is always beneficial.
I cannot declare anything on my list of favorites unless I have seen it twice. Additional viewings can often bring new insight (as is the case with complex tales such as Boogiepop Phantom) or recognition of faults (some anime that thrive on surprise plot twists really suffer the second time through) that may make or break my affection for an anime. In the case of Whisper of the Heart, one of Studio Ghibli’s lesser known movies (compared to their other ultra-popular works, anyway), a second watch only cemented its greatness in my mind.
Whisper of the Heart by its name alone sounds like the kind of movie that women gather to see armed with boxes of tissues. But though love is certainly a topic — and certain elements sound suspiciously like something that belongs in a Hallmark movie — Whisper is no tear-jerker. It’s a human coming-of-age story.
Shizuku is in her last year of middle school (9th grade in Japan). She spends most of her time reading books from the library where her father works, fending off some jerk who insulted a poem she wrote, attempting to sort out her friend’s love issues, and wondering about the owner of the name she finds written on all the library cards of the books she checks out. She also discovers a fascinating antique shop by following a cat she met on the train, which contains the distinguished figurine of another cat known as “The Baron.” All the while Shizuku wonders what the future holds for her — others seem to have a passion and purpose that she lacks, and she decides to test herself by writing a story about the Baron.
If the plot summary sounds like way too much, rest assured, the movie is not so. It’s a relaxed, slice-of-life film that leisurely meanders through the above plot lines, giving each such attention that it’s hard to write a bare-bones summary. Even the minor characters — the old shop owner, Shizuku’s college-aged sister and easy going parents, even the Baron himself — sparkle off the screen with personality. They feel very real. Shizuku is of course the strongest character, with the same indomitable spirit that made so many of Ghibli’s other heroines so likeable. This may be a result of the author of the script: Hayao Miyazaki himself.
Unlike other Studio Ghibli films, the fantasy element is purely from the characters’ imaginations. This doesn’t mean the fancifulness is gone — instead it’s visible in the dreams of characters, like wanting to be writer or a violin maker, or missing a loved one separated by miles and many years. The sequence in which Shizuku follows a cat from the train down alleyways and across streets to the shop is nothing short of enchanting. It and other scenes, especially those revolving around the antique shop, showcase the beautiful animation that Studio Ghibli is known for.
The background music has a few odd moments, but the main events — the mini-concert in the antique shop basement and the ending song, “Country Road,” both sung by Shizuku’s seiyuu — are both perfectly in sync with the movie itself and well worth listening to otherwise.
In the end, the real draw of the movie is that it offers something just about everyone can relate to: a struggle with personal identity and future. But Whisper of the Heart broaches these serious matters with a gentle touch and a light heart, making it a charming and, dare I say it, “inspirational” movie that can be watched over and over again. If you like Studio Ghibli films, watch this. If you like chick flicks, watch this. If you like anime, please, just watch this movie.
Credits: All images from http://www.wingsee.com/ghibli/whisper/
Category: Movie Reviews
Senna is a college student majoring in English and minoring in Japanese. Her favorite anime and manga include Escaflowne, Please Save My Earth, Scrapped Princess, Nana, and Boogiepop Phantom.