Whisper of the Heart

Whisper of the Heart


Watched via DVD/BD



PLOT: Whisper of the Heart is about growing into the person you want to become. Shizuku is at that delicate age where she’s conscious of the fact that she doesn’t have any future life goals, yet is too reluctant to give up her lifestyle as a child to come up with any. During her free time she writes lyrics and reads books whilst avoiding house hold chores.

Her youthful curiosity is what drives her to finally meet, and later befriend Seiji Amasawa, another boy who attends the same middle school as her. Unlike Shizuku, Seiji is already looking forward to his future potential. His problem is that his dream seems so far fetched, that he is unable to get the support he needs to follow his dreams of becoming a violin maker.

Seiji’s antics initially rub Shizuku the wrong way, but they eventually grow to like each other, and serve as a support network with each other’s life goals. Seiji helps Shizuku to begin a pursuit in creative writing, and she gives him the courage to study abroad to apprentice in violin making. The price they pay for their goals is that they must live long distance right when they begin to realize their romantic feelings towards each other.

Shizuku’s writing begins to evolve due to her emotions and life experiences, yet her writing is bitter sweet as she’s constantly aware of the pain of separation from the one she loves. As Crystal mentions, she is able to come up with some small gems in her writing, yet there is still much to be learned and developed and she becomes disheartened. Whisper of the Heart demonstrates how adolescence is filled with a longing for the future, but a lack of skills, refinement, and experience that comes naturally with time. Shizuku is both eager and terrified of growing up and finding out what the future has in store for her. At the end of this movie there is a reassuring hope that while the future is uncertain, that if you believe in yourself and keep trying to becoming better at your goals, that you’ll eventually polish yourself into what you want to become.

PLOT: Shizuku’s a middle school student who loves to read more than anything else. Over the summer, she’s translating “Take Me Home, Country Roads” for her middle school graduation, but she doesn’t know what she wants to do as an adult or if she even wants to go to high school. She’s been preoccupied with a boy, Seiji Amasawa, who’s checked out the same books as her from the library, but she doesn’t know who he is.

One day, Shizuku forgets some joke lyrics in a book on a bench, and a boy finds them. He teases her for them, which pisses off Shizuku and leads her to decide he’s the worst boy on earth. Of course, the boy turns out to be Seiji Amasawa, and he’s been nursing a crush on her for ages, which led him to check out a ton of fiction books from the library to get her attention.

Turns out Seiji wants to be a violin maker, and he wants to go to Italy to test himself. His parents eventually agree, and so he goes for two months. In his absence, Shizuku resolves to test herself, too, as an author. She works on a fantasy novel about “The Baron,” a cat statuette owned by Seiji’s grandfather.

This movie is about two things: adolescence and creativity. It does an excellent job of portraying the agonies adolescents go, while also highlighting the positive elements of growing up. Even more exciting, though, is how the film depicts the creative process, showing Shizuku thinking she’s found some gems of ideas only for them to fall apart under further scrutiny. Shizuku’s experiences should resonate within any creative type, and her test makes the movie for me. I do love the cute central romance and the way the film shows adolescence, but for me it’s a classic because of how it shows creativity’s difficulties and rewards.

This should be a must watch for any art students, or other creative types. It really shows that creativity is developed over time through trials and dedication. It doesn’t just happen.

SETTING: Whisper of the Heart has a timeless quality about it. The movie takes place in modern day Japan, at least modern so far as the ‘90s. However the basic elements of the story appeal to any time or generation. Shizuku and Seiji attend the same middle school, and through Shizuku’s explorations we get a feel for the rest of the city. Shizuku’s father works at the library, and Seiji helps out his grandfather at a small repair shop for antiquities.

Once Shizuku begins writing her short story we are treated to various day dreams of another world where cats can talk, and people can fly through the air. The story is never completely fleshed out, just enough to introduce us to basic themes, such as long lost love, magic, and gems. These elements parallel with Shizuku’s every day interests and influences from her current trips to the antique shop.

SETTING: Though this film takes place in a modern-day Japanese city, Shizuku travels through enough of the city for it to be realistically developed. Studio Ghibli must have based this on a real city, as the hills and buildings all feel real, as do the unexpected places Shizuku finds herself. I especially love Shizuku’s family’s apartment, which is tiny in the way that only Japanese city apartments can be. After watching her family’s interactions in that small space, I understand why Shizuku feels smothered beyond the standard teen angst.

Seiji’s grandfather’s antique store is a visual delight, as each piece in the store is lovingly rendered with great attention to detail. The antique store also inspires Shizuku’s novel, which we see glimpses of during her writing process. The world of her novel is fascinating and gorgeous, though necessarily underdeveloped and a bit confusing in its logistics. Despite its flaws, I love its originality, which leaves me with no doubt that Shizuku will one day mature as a writer and create an excellent fantasy novel.

CHARACTERS: I really connected with Shizuku when I first watched this movie in high school, and I still do. Whisper of the Heart shows that it’s difficult to have confidence in your life choices when you’re still an inexperienced young adult. My favorite scene of the whole movie is when Shizuku is sitting at her desk writing, and slides off her chair onto the ground. The moment is filled with a heavy air of longing and disappointment. Having been through a years-long long distance relationship, I can strongly relate to the key moments where Shizuku seems too despondent to continue on. Not only that, but Whisper of the Heart truly shows that goals are met through refinement and will power, and that true talent is learned. As an artist, I find this to be a very powerful message. Too often creative types seem to think that they have to naturally be born with talent, yet I believe that creativity is nurtured and grown through experience and practice, which is reflected well in this movie.

I love the relationship between Seiji and Shizuku. It’s so naïve, hopeful, and genuine. They’ve never had their hearts broken, and so they look at the world with fresh eyes. It’s incredibly unlikely for a relationship like theirs to succeed, but I like that they are willing to at least try to take the risks that come along with supporting each other.

Additionally, I like that in the end the two of them realize that they still need refinement and continue on, to at least finish their high school degrees. As a young adult, it’s hard to realize how much of the world you don’t realize, and I like that that simple life lesson is highlighted in the plot.

Even Shizuku’s family interactions are a pleasant study on being an adolescent. Shizuku isolates herself and refuses to talk things out with her family, but towards the end we see just how much her parents and older sister are looking out for her. At that age it’s easy to see everyone as the enemy, and I like that Shizuku basically learns to take her head out of her butt.

You know how adults like to stress that you won’t appreciate your parents until you get older? This movie’s a great example of that idea in motion. And fun fact! Your favorite scene is a popular gif on Tumblr.

CHARACTERS: I might love this movie so much because I identify with Shizuku and am partial to Seiji (he did, after all, fall in love with a bookworm). I, too, love reading and used to think that I could be an author without much effort (ha!), though I never tested myself like Shizuku and grew out of it. Because of my past experiences, though, I really get where Shizuku’s coming from, and I can’t help but root for her. Maybe I could’ve become a novelist, the way Shizuku does. Maybe I still can. Whisper of the Heart carries that kind of hope and sheer optimism with it, which inevitably puts me in a good mood.

As for Shizuku’s family, I respect them all for having their own lives and being busy the way real people are. Though the film centers around Shizuku, we learn about everyone else in her family, and their lives inevitably impact hers. Even at school, everyone’s lives are closely intertwined, so that what one person does can have consequences they never expected on another person. The ties between individuals accurately reflect reality, which I find important in a medium that tends to features so many outlandish relationships and interactions.

Notably, your tolerance level for middle schoolers will probably impact your feelings for this film. My roommate, who can’t stand middle schoolers, found Shizuku and everyone else annoying for the majority of the movie, while I related to them. You should also be ready to accept the ridiculous way that Shizuku and Seiji’s romance concludes, which is pretty out of nowhere, though I’m inured to it by now.

In that case, I love middle schoolers. I think it’s the perfect age of possibilities. It’s hard to watch as children grow into themselves, but it’s nice to look on at a younger generation, and know that while they are still scared and unsure of the future, that you can see a strong potential in them and know that they’ll be fine. This is why I loved teaching so much, because it was so heart warming to look on at a group of individuals where anything is still possible.

ART STYLE/ANIMATION: What I enjoy most about Studio Ghibli films is actually the use of sound effects to punctuate basic moments. I loved the opening scene where we are treated to shots of Shizuku’s hometown. We get to see the cityscape and transportation, all with nostalgic train sounds. Probably an odd thing to fixate on, but it’s beautifully simple and wonderfully orchestrated.

I loved how fluidly the characters moved through space. While they are obviously stylized to fit within anime, I always felt as if the characters and mechanizations moved in a believable manner. The storyboarding is excellent and the camera angles bring the simple story to life in a way that is compelling and fascinating.

As always, Studio Ghibli sets itself apart by making characters move like real people, tics and all. You know you’re watching great animation when you forget that you’re watching animated characters.

ART STYLE/ANIMATION: As a Studio Ghibli film, Whisper of the Heart looks fantastic. The character animation pays attention to details, like posture or small movements, the way I’ve come to expect. The animation makes Shizuku’s writing scenes particularly memorable, and I love watching the impromptu jam session Shizuku and Seiji have.

As for character designs, they make the film stand out subtly from other Ghibli films. The late Yoshifumi Kondo directed this film, and he draws characters that are less rounded and more angular than in other Ghibli films. Don’t worry that the characters look crazily unlike other Ghibli characters—the slight differences are just noticeable to me after watching so many of Hayao Miyazaki’s films. What may make this film stand out the most to me is the clothing, which looks very much from the early ‘90s and is jarring after Miyazaki’s standard timeless garb.

OVERALL: Whisper of the Heart can be a hard movie to get into if you’re more interested in action packed adventure. The plot is everywhere, and Shizuku’s writing is inserted randomly as a metaphor for her anxieties. If you’re interested in emotional growth and self discovery, you’ll love it, otherwise, probably not.

Mostly I just love this film because it so closely parallels my own young adult years. I too was an introvert, who spent much of my existence reading fantasy novels. To this day I can hardly talk about TV shows or music bands, just because it wasn’t on my radar growing up, and still really isn’t. It’s totally unrealistic, but I also really enjoy the way Whisper of the Heart depicts first love. Sure there’s a million-in-one chance that that sort of relationship will work out in the long term, but then again, that’s exactly how it worked out for me, and I really connected to their story.

OVERALL: This is one of my favorite Ghibli films, but I can see how it might not mesh as well for others. The plot seems rather aimless for a while with its focus on adolescence, and the teen angst and romance could be a bit much for some. However, I think Whisper of the Heart is an excellent portrayal of what quieter, more normative adolescence troubles are like. After seeing so many films that sensationalize the way that teens act out, it’s refreshing to watch a movie that mirrors my own experiences instead of making me feel abnormal for being an introvert.

Beyond the portrayal of adolescence, I think this film is also worth watching for its visuals. Since it was the first theatrical Ghibli movie directed by neither Hayao Miyazaki nor Isao Takahata, I find the director’s use of the studio’s talent intriguing. The everyday setting allows the animators to focus on small, important elements of the characters, while Shizuku’s imagination lets the animators’ imaginations similarly take flight, creating beautiful, fantastical worlds.

As an anime-loving, fantasy-reading bookworm, this movie’s one of my comfort movies. It may not resonate the same with you, but I think you should give it a shot, especially if you love great animation or plain old books.

FINAL SCORE: (10/10) FINAL SCORE: (10/10)

4 thoughts on “Whisper of the Heart

  1. Whisper of the Heart in my FAVORITE Ghibli film. Very few films make that connection to adolescence as well as this one.

    The only thing that unnerves me is, as Crystal points, the sudden conclusion to Shizuku and Seji’s romance. It’s humorous in a bad way, and always makes me cringe a bit. :P

  2. Pingback: Whisper of the Reality-Struck Heart |

  3. Pingback: Whisper of the Reality-Struck Heart | Beneath the Tangles

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