REVIEW: DVD Release: Whisper Of The Heart

Film: Whisper Of The Heart
Release date: 10th April 2006
Certificate: PG
Running time: 111 mins
Director: Yoshifumi Kondo
Starring: Youko Honna, Kazuo Takahashi, Takashi Tachibana, Shigeru Muroi, Shigeru Tsuyuguchi
Genre: Anime
Studio: Optimum
Format: DVD
Country: Japan

This is the tenth film from Studio Ghibli, and the only one to be directed by Yoshifumi Kondō. He was meant to join the ranks of Hayao Miyazaki and Isao Takahata in the company but passed away a few years after the film’s release.

Shizuku Tsukishima, in junior high school, is meant to be revising for her exams, but, instead, she spends her time in the library. Here, she discovers, to her annoyance, that a certain Seiji Amasawa has already checked out all the books she requires.

The following day she shows a friend her lyrics for their graduation ceremony, a catchy cute version of ‘Country Roads’. These lyrics end up in the hands of a boy her age who calls them ‘corny’ and subsequently leads to her irritable mood for the rest of the day and to dub him “stupid jerk.”

She meets a grumpy fat cat on the train and, curious, ends up following him to an antique shop. Inside, she finds a smartly attired cat called Baron Humbert von Jikkingen. A character so intriguing that in 2002 Studio Ghibli revived him for the role of The Baron In The Cat Returns.

Upon returning to the shop to speak with Nishi, the owner, about the baron’s life, Shizuku bumps into the “stupid jerk” again. Here she finds out that not only is he Nishi’s grandson but also Seiji Amasawa! Shizuku’s life takes a turn from this point on. Her feelings for Seiji unexpectedly change, as well as her worsening attitude to her work. She watches Seiji strive to reach his dream of becoming a world class violin maker, and decides to aim for her own dream of becoming a writer…

This film is about reaching the goals in our lives, the setbacks and the preparation needed are not ignored or unrealistic, which is what makes this animation another classic from Studio Ghibli. The film shows people, of any age, that they can strive for their dreams. It draws on the innocence and hope of children whilst also capturing wonderfully the pressures of adult life. This is illustrated through both Shizuku’s mother, who is studying herself, and her sister, who is joining the world of work. The issues related to growing up and young love is at the heart of this narrative but not over emphasised in an unnecessary manner, which gives it a refreshing approach to the subject.

Originally based on a manga of the same name by Mangaoi Hiiragi, the script was written by Hayao Miyazaki. It follows the same themes of love, growing up and striving for one’s dreams found in his other screenplays, such as Castle In The Sky and Kiki’s Delivery Service. Though they are well trodden, they never lose their charm for an audience. They can be translated into anybody’s life, which is why stories such as this will remain timeless.

The realism of the dialogue reaches right down to the teachers and staff at the school. It portrays the perfect picture of sibling rivalry through their jibes and arguments. Though the elder sister is irritating compared to our favoured protagonist, the audience cannot help but sympathise with how hard she works. This depth and strength of character is what makes this film a true Studio Ghibli.

The charm of Studio Ghibli, like Disney and Pixar films, is that despite the age of the characters and issues of growing up and dealing with teenage life, they truly are films for all ages. Yet Studio Ghibli transcends the realm of reminiscing, which is the only charm for Disney and Pixar. It can be enjoyed on another level entirely because the storytelling is so realistic and unique. The animation is something to be admired; hand drawn, breathtakingly cinematic and quirky, there is nothing quite like the imaginations seen in Japanese animation.

At a time when Studio Ghibli was being internationally recognised, this film earned its place as one of their most popular. However, it wasn’t given the time of day by British cinemas, of course. It is best enjoyed with the original Japanese cast; however, the British dubbed version includes the likes of Brittany Snow, Jean Smart and Harold Gould, and is also brilliantly done.

The only niggling problem with this story is how understanding Shizuku’s parents are about her putting her studies aside to pursue her dream without even knowing what dream it is. Though this is the main premise of the film, their patience borders on disinterest for their daughter’s passion. Yet, despite this, the romantic tale does not suffer but is used to direct us further into Shizuku’s imagination as her novel unfolds in an unknown magical world.

This is a beautiful story of young love and following your dreams, and is a definite must for anyone who enjoys Japanese animation. Whether you’re acquainted with Studio Ghibli’s previous masterpieces or not, you won’t be disappointed or be able to stop yourself hunting for more. KH

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