film review

Whisper of the Heart (1995)

By Colin Odell and Michelle Le Blanc

Every film that Studio Ghibli has produced is rightly applauded for its quality but it could be argued that their fantasy films, notably those by Hayao Miyazaki, are the better known in the West. In many ways Whisper of the Heart is the perfect assimilation of all of the Ghibli output in that it uses the medium of a beautifully realised animation to develop a social drama about young people on the cusp of adulthood and encompasses all the emotional and intellectual aspects that come with it, combined with gorgeous fantasy worlds.

Although Miyazaki was responsible for the screenplay and storyboarding, together with the direction of the fantastical and dream sequences, Whisper of the Heart was directed by Kondō Yoshifumi, marking his directorial feature debut following a number of key roles on many previous Ghibli films. His early death in 1998 affected the studio greatly, so Whisper of the Heart is his legacy and remains one of the most delightful and humanitarian anime of all time. At its heart it is about the blending of one's daily existence with the joy and hard work associated with artistic creation, be it in the realm of literature, music, art, cooking or craftwork. It covers so many aspects of human life: age (both growing up and growing old), friendship, love, loss and gentle ambition.

Tsukishima Shizuku is a normal teenage girl – she's involved in many school activities, has lots of friends and should probably be studying harder to get into high school. But what she really loves to do is read. She has recently discovered that many of the books she has obtained from the library have a fellow borrower – one Seiji Amasawa. One day, on the way to the library, she spots a commuting cat on the train and follows him. Her fate seems to be in the paws of her feline companion, Moon (if that is the name, it changes often), who leads her to a tiny antiques shop. From there she begins to discover new friendships and also a way of exploring her burgeoning abilities as a writer, even if she did start off by rewriting John Denver's Country Roads...

Even though much of the non-fantasy sections of Whisper of the Heart needn't have been animated – most of the film could easily have been filmed as live action - this is a film where the real and the artistic are separate worlds that fit with each other in a manner that is perfectly realised in the anime format. Linking these two worlds is the Baron, a statue of a fantastical humanoid feline whose story is inextricably intertwined with his current long-time owner, and acts as a metaphor for the sentiments of the main characters and their desires in life. The Baron's sequences are shown in fantastical scenes directed by Miyazaki that use the surrealist artwork of Naohisa Inoue, whose Iblard worlds form not only the basis for these sequences but are also incorporated into Ghibli's short experimental film Iblard Jikan (2007), in order to create a alternate world that is still utterly real within the context of the film.

Whisper of the Heart is a joy to watch on Blu-ray. You can, if you will, argue the pros and cons of high definition formats, especially the difference between celluloid film transfers, but animation (that is cell animation – CG animation has its own built-in advantages), if transferred properly, really benefits from the process as the artists' work can be seen in glorious detail. Whisper of the Heart looks marvellous and shows the quality of the artistry to full effect. The Blu-Ray gives you the option of watching the anime with its original soundtrack, essential in a film where the characters' songs and translations relate very strongly to the narrative. Also included are a number of useful extras including storyboards and background artwork from 'The Baron's Story' as well as 4 Masterpieces of Naohisa Inoue: From Start to Finish.

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