Whisper of the Heart (1995)
Yoshifumi Kondō’s Whisper of the Heart is a beautiful and loving tale of art and youth. Released in Japan in 1995, the film didn’t find its way to an American release until 2006. Based on the manga series If You Listen Closely by Aoi Hîragi, Whisper of the Heart was the first Japanese film to use Dolby Digital sound and remains a classic in the Studio Ghibli pantheon.
It also stands as a bit of a sad testimony to Yoshifumi Kondō. He was expected to be one of Ghibli’s top directors alongside Isao Takahata and Hayao Miyazaki, but he died of a brain aneurysm in 1998. Luckily Whisper of the Heart remains to showcase the work of the talented director and animator, illustrating exactly why he was thought of so highly by his peers and why he was considered to be among the future of the industry.
Whisper of the Heart is gorgeous to look at and tells a beautiful story to boot. Featuring backgrounds by Japanese surrealist painter Naohisa Inoue during the film’s fantasy sequences, the movie tells the story of 14-year-old Shizuku Tsukishima. She notices a pattern in her library books: they’ve all been signed out by the same boy. Shizuku begins to become infatuated with the idea of this boy, named Seiji Amasawa.
Shizuku continues life as normal, writing lyrics for her friends and having fun, when one day she discovers an interesting shop after following a cat. In the shop, Shizuku discovers a world of fantasy and amazement which leads to an eventual encounter with the boy of her dreams, a compelling cat figurine dubbed “The Baron,” and an interesting old man who helps her discover her truth path through the art of writing and imagination.
I often say that it goes without saying that the animation in Studio Ghibli pictures is among the best in the world. Such is certainly the case in Whisper of the Heart, as the beautiful interpretations of city life and the fantasy realm are fantastic. There are also some smaller details in the art worth noticing, such as that of the wood engraving of the musician in prison. This piece of art was designed by Hayao Miyazaki’s son, Keisuke, who just so happens to be a wood artist.
Whisper of the Heart is a great story about love, as the blossoming affection between Shizuku and Seiji is just adorable to behold. The way the film ends on a perfect note of love is amazing, as is the tender build and joy shared between the two characters. The idea that they are in junior high school simply doesn’t come into play given how legitimate their relationship feels. There is a beauty of purpose to their romance, as if the two kids are thinking logically and realistically for the first time.
The beauty of this film and most Ghibli films is in the unrushed attitude towards the material. Other films from other animation studios would have jammed the plot full of characters and music and noise, while Kondō is more than content to allow things to flow naturally. Notice how Shizuku keeps fumbling with the alarm clock, for instance, or check out a seemingly extraneous segment in which she reaches for the light in her room. These small details add texture and beauty to Whisper of the Heart.
Kondō’s motion picture is a terrific one, telling a soft story about gentleness, love and art without pretentiousness or gaudiness. It is the perfect anti-thesis to loud-mouthed cartoon characters, bloated storylines and countless musically-based “action” sequences that infiltrate so much of what passes for animation these days. Whisper of the Heart is, as the title would suggest, a tenderly moving tale.