Whisper of the Heart (1995)

We start 2012 with another Studio Ghibli release. Whisper of The Heart, directed by Yoshifumi Kondo, is one of the second tier films - meaning that it's not from the master Hayao Miyazaki himself, but still up to his standards in every way.

This is the completely ordinary story about a completely ordinary young girl, Shizuku Tsukishima, who lives in a crammed apartment with her parents and her older sister. It's the story about how she falls in love, struggles in school, thinks about her future, and dreams big dreams. It begins when Shizuku spots a reoccurring name in all the books she borrows from the library. Of course she can't help but dream up a perfect guy to go with that check-out history, but she's constantly distracted by a local boy, who always seems to catch her at the most inconvenient moments.

The life of a teenager may look utterly simple, even pointless at times, especially when viewed from the vantage point of experience and age. But we all know there's nothing simple about it, when you're in it. Shizuku's world seems to overwhelm her with possibilities on a daily basis, and Whisper of The Heart aims for nothing more than to capture that sensation.

That means it's full of the kind of problems a teenage girl would have, from the mundane (getting chores done, fighting with her big sister), to the all-too familiar (embarrassing episodes in class), the lyrical (the mystery boy, her attempts to be a writer) and even the magical, with a few almost surreal flights of fancy. The film is never condescending. However small Shizuku's problems may seem in the larger scheme of things, they fill her life up, and the film treats them with sincerity and respect.

This high-def release from StudioCanal in England is quite stunning to look at, and of course features original Japanese dialogue, with English subtitles. The extras consist of storyboards, some background artwork, trailers and TV spots. There's a 30 minute montage called "4 masterpieces of Naohisa Inoue", plus an 8 minute featurette about the English voice actors. Cute, but not relevant, since the original language is obviously the way to go.

The story and the film are rooted in reality on almost every level, even the animation style is suitably straightforward. I'm tempted to call it simple, but anyone who has ever put pen to paper, knows there's nothing simple about drawing anything that just looks real. At times an almost magical realism bubbles to the surface, particularly in a sequence, where Shizuku pursues a cat, who appears to ride the train by itself. The only real departure from reality is during a few elaborate dream sequences, when the story Shizuku is trying to write comes to life. I saw some images from these scenes, before I had seen the film and couldn't quite make them fit into the plot. They make Whisper of The Heart look similar to some of the more famous Miyazaki films, which is a bit misleading.

Whisper of The Heart is deceptively uncomplicated at times. It delivers its simple, beautiful story with a bare minimum of bells and whistles, and perhaps this is why it's so utterly irresistible.

Thanks to StudioCanal and Edith Chappey for making this review possible.

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