Review of Whisper of the Heart (1995)

Moving picture, 111 minutes – previously

Suzuki Toshio (producer), Miyazaki Hayao (writer).

Song translation, race reading, violin manufacture, love, a fat cat and brief glimpses of a magical land in the imagination of a budding type-A personality.

A coming-of-age story, rooted in a real place: The Tama hills in western Tokyo. The area has been clad in concrete over the past few decades, but there are still trees, and summer sunlight to filter through the leaves. There’s romance, both in the sense of romantic love and in a few scenes of delightful serendipity, but as dramas go, Whisper of the Heart is whisper quiet. It’s a masterpiece of realism, centered on the believable lives of ordinary, pleasant people, without even as much tension as Tokyo Story (1953). The main source of tension in this case is to challenge oneself to find a direction and test one’s quality.

The realism of this film goes beyond that of Here Is Greenwood (1991), into what may be called “slice of life”. There’s a fine shot of animation that is just the main character turning off a light to go to sleep. Another shot, where she’s listening to music in headphones, became the foundation of the French music label Lofi Girl in 2017, via a long series of forum posts featuring the character. Even though this realism is flawlessly executed, with rounded characterization, gorgeous multiplane shots and poster-colour backgrounds galore, it is still the realism of Aristotle’s Poetics (ca. 355 BCE). There is an Aristotelian dramaturgy underneath it, complete with anagnorisis. The compromise seems to celebrate the joys of everyday life.

The screenplay, storyboards and production are all Miyazaki, but the film was directed by Kondō Yoshifumi, the man responsible for many of Ghibli’s iconic character designs. It is based on a 1989 comic, with changes discussed in “Why Shōjo Manga Now?” (1993).

References here: Ghibli movie titles, En betraktelse av A Silent Voice, Yakul i det öppna lagret, Little Nemo: Adventures in Slumberland (1989), “On Your Mark” (1995), The Cat Returns (2002), “Proposal for ‘The Day I Bought a Star’” (2004), Turning Point: 1997–2008 (2008/2014), Words Bubble Up Like Soda Pop (2020), Keep Your Hands Off Eizouken! (2020), Earwig and the Witch (2020), The Boy and the Heron (2023).

moving picture Ghibli Japanese production animation fiction