Disney continues its release of the Studio Ghibli catalog with Whisper
of the Heart, a movie penned by Hayao Miyazaki (based on a manga by
Aoi Hiiragi) but directed by Yoshifumi Kondo. Though it features
many of the same themes that show up in other Ghibli films, this is an
atypical release from the studio. Instead of being a magical fantasy
this gentle and beautiful movie is firmly grounded in reality. While some
may consider this a weaker work, it has a charm and gentle way about it
that makes this a special film.
Middle school student Shizuku is a book worm. She loves to read,
especially fantasy books, and though her life is rather dull, she dreams
that one day she'll have an adventure. Coming home from the library
one summer day with another stack of books, Shizuku's amazed to discover
that a boy named Seiji Amasawa had checked all of the books out earlier.
The more she reads the more Seiji's name seems to pop up. Just who
is this mysterious boy who reads as much as Shizuku does?
Something else that's slightly odd happens to Shizuku while bringing
her father's lunch to him at work: she sees a cat on the train. This
fat feline gets off at her stop, and Shizuku can't resist following it.
The cat walk along walls, through narrow alleyways and up the side of a
large hill to an antique shop. Disappearing inside Shizuku follows
the cat and finds a wondrous shop filled with unique and beautiful objects,
including the statue of a stately cat named The Baron. She has a
nice talk with the old man who runs the store but has to run off to meet
her father all too soon. Just as she gets to the library, an obnoxious
boy from Shizuku's school, rides up on his bike to give her the lunch
that she left in the shop. The old man's grandson is very cute but
boy does he get under her skin. For some reason Shizuku has a bad
feeling that this jerk is really the mysterious Seiji Amasawa. But
he really couldn't be, could he?
Studio Ghibli wanted to nurture new talent, so novice director Yoshifumi
Kondo was allowed to helm this project. Hayao Miyazaki had hoped
to train Kondo to be his successor, but unfortunately this new talent died
before he could direct a second film.
Although Miyazaki wrote the screenplay, was the supervising director
and even did the storyboard art, this movie has a different look than most
of Ghibli's other output. The images look rotoscoped (though they
aren't), the lines are less curved and the images look more realistic than
their other work. This isn't bad at all, it looks quite good in fact,
but the difference in appearance is readily apparent.
Like the animation style, the story itself is so striking because it's
realistic. It has an authentic feel that isn't only due to the animation.
Yes, this is a story of a young girl falling in love for the first time,
but it isn't sappy (with the exception of the last lines in the film) or
overly romanticized. Shizuku is awkward, unsure of herself, and insecure,
just like most girls in their early teens when they discover boys.
More than a romance movie, this is the story of a girl finding out who
she really is and where she fits in life.
There isn't a lot of action in the film, there isn't a curse to overcome
or a maiden to rescue, the film is firmly grounded in reality. (That
doesn't stop Shizuku from flying though, something that happens in almost
every Miyazaki film, though it's only a dream sequence this time.)
The gentle nature of the film and the genuine emotion that it has keeps
this feature from feeling slow or dull though. It's this deliberate
pacing that makes the film so special and realistic. The scenes were
Shizuku is having doubts about her future may not be exciting, but they
are as stirring and heart-felt as any scene in a live action film, and
just as powerful.
This two disc set comes in a single width keepcase with one disc on
an inserted 'page.' There is also an insert with a list of chapter
This disc comes with a choice of audio tracks; the original Japanese
and an English dub, both in Dolby Digital 5.1. Both audio tracks
sound very good, and the quality of the English performances, like most
of the Disney dubs of Studio Ghibli films, are top notch. In both
languages there is a good amount of range, and the voices are clean and
clear. The music, which is often playing lightly in the background
while people are talking, sounds very good and the subtle sounds are reproduced
faithfully. There are no background noises of dropouts.
The widescreen (1.85:1 - OAR) anamorphic image looks exceptionally good.
The colors are bright and very strong, the lines are tight, and the picture
is clear. There is a tad of dreaded edge enhancement that has been applied
to the image, but this defect is minor and will only be noticeable to people
with very large screens.
This two disc set has a couple of nice bonus features. The first
disc has a selection of original Japanese trailers, and a Behind the
Microphone featurette. This eight minute short has interviews
with most of the English voice actors, with the notable exception of James
B. Sikking (who played Shizuku's father.) It was a bit fluffy, but
still nice to watch.
The second disc is devoted to showing the entire film again, but this
time with the original storyboards. While this is nice to have if
you are a student of animation, I was underwhelmed. A scene or two
would have been sufficient and I can't really see myself watching the whole
movie this way.
Overall, I was expecting more from a two disc set. An vintage
interview with the late Yoshifumi Kondo who directed the film would have
I haven't seen a studio Ghibli film that isn't outstanding and this
one is no exception. This coming of age film eschews all of the cliches
and predictable scenes that often make the genre feel old and worn.
By telling an honest story with real emotion and more than a little humor,
director Yoshifumi Kondo crafted a wonderful film that will please both
young and old. This one gets a strong Recommendation.