Studio Ghibli’s 1995 film, Whisper of the Heart, is a surprisingly mature and considered film, intent to take its time building our relationship with its central character. Shizuku Tsukishima (Youko Honna) is a teenage girl who is intrigued by the notion that all the books she borrowed from the local library were previously taken out by the same mysterious person. One day she spots a cat nonchalantly taking a ride on the same train as her, and follows it to a part of town she’s never visited. There, she meets a shop owner and his son, Seiji Amasawa (Kazuo Takahashi), who has dreams of one day being a violinmaker.
The real world setting of this feature doesn’t take away from the usual Studio Ghibli magic. The depiction of Shizuku’s life is beautifully rendered, from her daily commutes to the cramped apartment in which she lives with her sister and parents. Despite what the trailer suggests, there isn’t much in the way of fantasy here. Shizuku hopes to one day be a writer, and the few fantastical moments come from the depiction of her creations. A pseudo-sequel appeared in 2002, The Cat Returns (Neko no Ongaeshi) which featured the same cat leading a different girl into another world, but this film sticks with the real world, for the most part.
A testament to the boldness of Studio Ghibli, Whisper of the Heart really isn’t what you’d expect from an animated film (this is the studio that brought us Grave of the Fireflies, after all). It’s a teen romance of sorts, full of longing and ambition, and isn’t interested in catering to all and sundry. Young kids would definitely be bored, as might teenage boys. You could argue that the film is aimed at teenage girls, but adults would appreciate it also.
Due to the nature of the narrative and setting, the animation never really gets flashy, but is still wonderfully evocative of the real world. The locations feel real, particularly Shizuku’s home, and the familial relations are almost documentary in nature. The voice acting is fantastic, though I’d perhaps suggest staying away from the English dub, which sounds like it was voiced by a bunch of Mouseketeers.
Whilst it can’t compare with newer animations, the Blu-ray quality is wonderful, and the ambient audio particularly good. The extras feature a mix of storyboards, concept art and an embarrassingly awful doco focussing on the English voice cast who are blonde and giggle a lot.
Whisper of the Heart definitely won’t be for everyone. It’s a subtle tale that some may find mundane, but there’s an innocent honesty about its portrayal of teenager love and ambition.
Whisper of the Heart is available now on Blu-ray from Madman.Rating: