Whisper of the Heart

whisperI dreamed of living alone but fearless,
Secret longing to be courageous,
Loneliness kept bottled up inside,
Just reveal your brave face,
They’ll never know you lied.

Whisper of the Heart was Studio Ghibli’s third effort at a slice of life film, and the first one of its kind to be written by Hayao Miyazaki.  It is of course completely brilliant and utterly beautiful.  Miyazaki didn’t direct it himself.  Instead, the director was another Ghibli genius, Yoshifumi Kondo.  He would doubtless have gone on to direct many more films, probably taking over from Miyazaki after his retirement, but tragically he died just three years after Whisper of the Heart was made.  Overworking probably contributed to his death, which just goes to show how important a good life balance is.  Ironically, the balance between work and hobbies is a major theme of Whisper of the Heart.

Country road may lead me home,
Know I belong there, all on my own.
Destiny calls.  Motionless I stall.
No I can’t go, country road.

Shizuku is something of a bookworm, with a budding talent for writing.  She starts to notice something odd about the books she borrows from the library: they have all been checked out by the same person before.  One day she is travelling by train when she notices that one of her fellow passengers is a cat!  She follows him off the train and on a round-about route (through beautiful suburban Tokyo scenery, of course) to his home.  Remarkably, the cat leads her to the very home of the young man who has been borrowing all the books, and his grandfather’s amazing antiques shop.

That’s a very rough introduction to the premise of the film, but there is a lot more going on than that.  Superficially the film is a romance, and a very innocent and heartwarming one at that, but there is a very important sub-plot involving a remarkable cat statue in the antiques shop, which inspires Shizuku to start writing a book.  The young book-borrower she meets, Seiji, also has creative ambitions, and wants to travel to Italy to become a master craftsman of violins.  But the problem is they both have their boring old school studies to worry about, and both seem to have some kind of a need to prove themselves.  Shizuku in particular ties herself in knots by making a self-imposed goal that she will write her book before Seiji returns from Italy.  The question is, what is more important in life?  Should her studies come first, or is it OK to sacrifice good grades in pursuit of her passion and talent?

No matter how dark the world’s inside me,
I’ll never stop to show the tears that I’ve shed,
But now I have to walk so fast, running, sprinting to forget,
What is lodged in my head.

This is what brings us back to that work/life balance.  Shizuku is lucky enough to have a remarkably supportive father, which is something that does not always happen in Ghibli films, and he lets her find her own path in life.  So she is free to make her own mistakes.  She has to learn an important lesson: life is about balance.  Maybe writing is the path for her, but she allows it to consume her whole life, and I’m sure you can imagine the importance that is then placed on the first opinion of her work that she seeks.  That leads to another lesson, about how great achievements take a lot of work.  Talent on its own is not enough.  So there is a lot to learn from this film.

Music is often of great importance to Studio Ghibli films, which have some of the most beautiful film scores ever written.  In Whisper of the Heart there is the added significance of some song lyrics Shizuku has to write, to the tune of Country Roads.  The importance of this probably passes most viewers by on first viewing, but it is beautifully metaphorical.  Her first attempt is cheesy, and as a bonus she writes a comedy version, which makes her friends laugh a lot.  Finally, she learns to write from the heart, and pour her experiences of finding the right road for herself in life into her words.  Just like her novel-writing, it won’t come right first time, and it has to be heartfelt to work.

Country road may lead me home,
Know I belong there all on my own.
Destiny calls, motionless I stall.
No I can’t go, country road.

Her performance of the song is the most magical moment of the film, accompanied by Seiji on his violin, with his grandfather and friends arriving home mid-song and joining in.

Slice-of-life is a genre of anime that takes some getting used to from a Western perspective.  My first impression, when I saw this for the first time many years ago was that nothing really happens.  But I was used to films with antagonists and protagonists, goodies and baddies, big dramatic moments.  And I was completely wrong.  So much happens in Whisper of the Heart, but it’s real, and it’s gentle, and it’s beautiful.  I love the film a little bit more each time I watch it.

You’re a good friend, I’ll never know.
Same tomorrow, regret and sorrow,
Can’t take you home.
Country Road.

My Studio Ghibli rankings so far, again simply to help anyone trying to decide your purchasing priorities, but the top 6 in particular are all completely magnificent.  Next week, the film that first brought Studio Ghibli mainstream, international acclaim, Princess Mononoke.

  1. Whisper of the Heart
  2. My Neighbour Totoro
  3. Laputa: Castle in the Sky
  4. Kiki’s Delivery Service
  5. Only Yesterday
  6. Porco Rosso
  7. Ocean Waves
  8. Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind
  9. Grave of the Fireflies
  10. Pom Poko

I try to include trailers where possible, but the one for Whisper of the Heart is awful, and actually quite misleading in the way it emphasises certain aspects of the film to make it seem like something it really isn’t.  It’s also in Japanese and I can’t find a good one that uses the English dub, and that’s a very different viewing experience.  So I won’t bother linking to it here.  Just buy the film!   RP

About Roger Pocock

Author of windowsintohistory.wordpress.com Co-writer on junkyard.blog Editor of frontiersmenhistorian.info
This entry was posted in Anime, Entertainment, Movies, Reviews, Studio Ghibli and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

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