Release date (Blu-ray) – 9th January 2012
Certificate (UK) – U
Country – Japan
Runtime – 112 mins
Director – Yoshifumi Kondo
Cast (English Language) – Brittany Snow, Ashley Tisdale, Jean Smart, David Gallagher
Originally released in 1995, Whisper of the Heart (Mimi wo sumaseba) is one of the few films made by Studio Ghibli which is not directed by Hayao Miyazaki. Though Miyazaki wrote the film’s screenplay, it was directed by animator, Yoshifumi Kondo, and was his only endeavour before his sudden death in 1998.
The film is the story of Shizuku Tsukishima (Snow), a young girl growing up in the industrial bubble of Tokyo, who spends her hours reading when she should be studying, and devours books like vital delicacies. But Shizuku is not the only one who favours the world of fairytales, and she soon realises that there is a boy checking out all the library books she desires before her. On a visit to her father at the library, Shizuku has a chance encounter with a cat that then leads her to a quiet antique shop, and seals her fate by bringing her to Seiji (Gallagher) and in turn opening her eyes to what the real world has to offer.
Unlike many other Ghibli films, Whisper of the Heart does not present the on-screen fantasy realm you might expect. As with My Neighbour Totoro (1988), there is an element of fantasy which engages with real-life Japan. However, Whisper of the Heart presents a modern day Tokyo and a sense of authentic life which is greater than any other film from the studio. It is Shizuku’s imagination which injects colour and fantasy into the film. Throughout the story, Shizuku is creating lyrics for her graduation ceremony to the melody of the song Country Roads. Though her songs inspire hope for the future, they are damning the concrete roads of urban Tokyo. There is a constant reminder that Shizuku is thriving in an environment designed to lead its inhabitants to industry and autonomy. Her home in particular is a cramped box of plastic, concrete and steel. The animators depict wonderful details of the Tokyo home, and then contrast this with sequences from Shizuku’s imagination which crave colour and liberation.
The evolution of Shizuku’s character is remarkable. Miyazaki’s screenplay constructs a character that begins as an ordinary young girl, but then probes her insecurities and flaws so that she becomes someone to truly comprehend. Like all Miyazaki stories, it champions the importance of love and friendship, but much like Chihiro (Spirited Away) Shizuku is a character that must discover something fundamental about herself. These parallels between Kondo’s film and later Ghibli films are clear. Spirited Away (2001) is also the story of a young girl who enters a fantasy world to escape the difficulties of an event in her life, and The Cat Returns (2002) is a continuation of The Baron’s (Cary Elwes) story after Shizuku is enchanted by his statue in the antique shop.
For those who are fans of Studio Ghibli tales, Whisper of the Heart is one that will resonate. At its core it is a film about finding the magic in the everyday and encouraging those encased in concrete to break free of the desperate scrabbling to progress, and to instead indulge in the beauty of all that we see and possess.
On Blu-ray the film looks outstandingly beautiful, with English language voiceovers from an enthusiastic cast and a pitch perfect performance from Smart as Shizuku’s exhausted mother. The most notable feature on the disc is a behind the mics venture which introduces the English language cast as they record their fragments of the story. As well as this there are also luscious storyboards and original trailers.
Whisper of the Heart is released on Blu-ray on 9th January – order it here.