Whisper of the Heart is a film I’ve put off for way too long. I have no excuses, I should have watched this sooner, being an absolute fan of Ghibli, and, as expected, this didn’t disappoint. Unlike the foray of whimsical delights Ghibli have blessed us with in their history, Whisper of the Heart delivers something more realistic and closer to home.
The director responsible, Yoshifumi Kondo, was an undeniable talent, contributing greatly to both the studio and to Nippon Animation, of which Ghibli’s co-founder’s Hayao Miyazaki and Isao Takahata were also part. In addition, whilst Miyazaki was not the director, it’s evident that his involvement is apparent here as scriptwriter.
What stuck me the most about this film was the slice-of-life approach it employed. The film manages to underline and provide development in the minimal screening time of little under two hours. The main character, Tsukishima Shizuku, is shown with her family, each receiving the appropriate amount of screen-time to make them seem real. Shizuku herself is a likable girl, full of curiosity and personality, juggling her time between school, helping out with the chores around the house, and spending much of her spare time indulging in a book or two at the local library where her father is an employee. All of this is shown very naturally, something of which Ghibli is able to achieve so well.
The production is rather dated for today’s standards, being released in 1995. Despite this, the moment you begin to watch, you can immediately tell how beautifully animated this film is, ranging from the picturesque backgrounds to the meticulous attention to detail. Whilst Shizuku was curiously wondering throughout the city, everything was fluid, her own movements and those around her. Everything was dynamic and didn’t feel overlooked or rushed, far from it. This is the marvel and genius of Ghibli, the ability to entice and draw the viewer in through their artistry.
The plot is one of self-discovery and identity, which is shown through the perspective of Shizuku, who is undergoing the insecurities and confusion that all of us older folk will end up nodding and relating to. I couldn’t help but smile at the smallest of instances during this film such as the cat she encounters on the train sitting beside her. The bemused look on the cat’s face and Shizuku’s curiosity of this. Their small interchange was just one of the many in this film that I really liked.
I suppose, ultimately, what this film is really about is the characters and their interactions. The film does an exquisite job of creating a cast of three-dimensional and highly likable characters. Whilst this film could easily be categorised as a ‘slice-of-life romance’, it certainly doesn’t adhere to the typical characteristics found in this genre. It’s a lot more authentic and less contrived. The pacing didn’t seem rushed, and the ending, while somewhat non-conclusive, provided more of an extract of this girl’s turning point in life.
All in all, this review has simply served to relay my likely jumbled thoughts on this film. Is this the best Ghibli has produced? No, but I don’t think it ever aspired to be, and what it did wish to achieve, it did well.