I’ve long been a fan of the gorgeous animated movies from Studio Ghibli; often tales infused with a sort of magical realism, their tales are most often set in real world environments, with supernatural or fantastical elements that put it the story just one step away from reality.
Whisper of the Heart is a little different; though it does feature fantasy sequences, these are all from a story-within-the-story, rather than events in the main narrative. It’s a sweet, good natured coming of age story that’s most definitely set in reality.
Bookworm Shizuku discovers that all of the books she’s been borrowing from the library have been borrowed before her by the same person – Seiji Amasawa. She keeps crossing paths with a boy her age who is revealed to be Seiji; striking up a friendship with him, she discovers that he’s a talented violin maker, soon to be leaving Japan for Italy to pursue an apprenticeship with a master violin-maker. Feeling inadequate in the face of Seiji’s skills, Shizuku becomes determined to develop her own talent in writing, using an anthropormophic cat statue’s story as inspiration. In obsessively writing the story of the cat’s search for his lost love, Shizuku realises that her feelings for Seiji may be deeper than she thought…
Despite the fact that the fantastical elements are very understated, the glimpses of Shizuku’s novel – the aforementioned story-within-the-story – that we do see are as beautifully and whimsically realised as in other Studio Ghibli movies. Likewise with the depiction of Japanese city life, with some incredible and evocative settings that are full of wonderful details.
The story itself is told at a leisurely pace, with lots of relatable characters – not least the nerdy, literate and likeable Shizuku. The affection that develops between Shizuku and Seiji, despite initial hurdles, is engaging and believable. It does, however, reach a conclusion a little too neatly and abruptly, but this is a minor complaint given how sweet and engaging the rest of the film is.
There’s an initially jarring use of a famous song on the soundtrack – Take Me Home, Country Roads – which thankfully does become important as it recurs throughout the story.
Whisper of the Heart is another lovely film by Studio Ghibli then. More steeped in realism than much of their output, it’s a wonderfully told tale of young love, with a brilliant atmosphere and a concrete sense of time and place. With real heart and a lovely set of characters that are easy to empathise with and root for, it’s a film I’d recommend in a heartbeat.
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