Ask any Ghibli fan why they love Whisper of the Heart and you’re likely to hear “it’s comfy”. That or the cat. Honestly, if you decide to watch the movie for no other reason but the chonk named Moon alone, it’s a perfectly legit propensity. And chances are, you’re gonna end up loving the film anyway. But I digress. Surely there’s more to the film than it just being comfy. So let’s do some digging. This is my Whisper of the Heart Review, a a must watch film for all, both young and old.
I’ve also done reviews on other films and anime like the one I did on the series Reply 1988 and how I can’t move on from it. Also done on the award Winner Sound of Metal 2019. Do check them out… after completing this that is.
The 1995 coming-of-age (and romantic) film was directed by Yoshifumi Kondō, and is based on the 1989 manga of the same title by Aoi Hiiragi. It follows Shizuku Tsukishima, a young girl who struggles to cope with school, and her journey to becoming a writer. She loves burrying her nose in books and getting lost in her half dreamt-up world, to the detriment of her grades and presence of mind. Things change as she meets an indifferent-looking cat (Moon) in the subway and decides to follow it to an antique shop that captures her imagination. She befriends the old man (Shiro Nishi) who runs the shop and his grandson (Seiji Amasawa). The grandson who would later shape the way she looks at herself and her ambition.
The film is not filled with convoluted plots, but is still nothing short of entertaining with moments made to tug at your heartstrings. The premise is simple yet it deals with a lot of mature themes that are ever-relevant. I will talk about some of the underlying themes I found in this Ghibli great. This is Whisper of the Heart as digested by someone with a limited knowledge of anime.
Finding magic in the mundane
In the first act, the film lets us into the world of Shizuku and her imaginings. It is the way the film captures her fantasies and love for stories that really draws our attention. For any other person, seeing the same name reappear in multiple library check-out cards may mean little to nothing. For Shizuku, it could be destiny. Likewise, a cat riding the subway may go unnoticed by some, but for Shizuku, that could be the beginning of a new story. But as she climbs over locked doors and secret alley ways, we realize how dangerously close Shizuku is to never making it back to reality. Like the car that almost hit her as she frolicked on the highway, reality is ruthless as it lurks in the corner, ready to ambush her.
Soon enough, Shizuku realizes that everyone is getting ahead of her in life. Reality sinks in as she hasn’t the faintest idea of what she wants to pursue. But of course, it doesn’t take her long to decide to give her talent of finding magic in the mundane a whole new purpose. Shizuku, the emotional, creative, dreamy and volatile protagonist sets out to be a writer.
Finding a place in your medium
The old cliché that success isn’t achieved overnight is the underlying message in this film; that there are no shortcuts when it comes to polishing your skills; that the creative process of mastering your craft is far from being simple. And Shizuku, who displays a knack for creative-writing but lacks the motivation (and maybe even self-discipline to some extent) portrays this perfectly by struggling in and out of self-doubt as she tries to find a place in her beloved medium.
Writers are not born but made. And even Shizuku, who is an avid reader, must start somewhere if she wants to be a writer. Determined to write a fantasy novella in just two months, she sets out, unaware of the mental breakdowns that await her. At the end of the two grueling months, she learns that just wanting wasn’t enough; that she has a long way to go if she wants to be the writer she envisions to be. Nobody ever got anywhere by wanting alone and not putting in the hours of work needed to hone a skill. The film in this way holds a mirror up to the creatively-inclined or just anyone with big dreams and ambitions.
On the other hand, we have Seiji, the most self-aware 14/15-year-old who must convince his parents that his dream to become a violin-maker is worth sacrificing his education for. Because of his determination and his grandfather’s support, Seiji is finally given the one chance he asked for—to master his craft in Italy. What’s beautiful is how the story finds the space to encompass the different journeys people take in life and the different sets of obstacles they each come with. Shizuku’s mom working hard for her master’s degree is also a way the film recognizes, embraces, and respects the diverse range of individuals and views.
Finding your support system
Whisper of the Heart has one of the healthier portrayals of familial support and relationship in movies I have ever seen. The characters in the film, especially Shizuku’s family, are doing the best they can. Shizuku’s father must put in the extra hours of work till his wife gets back on her feet again. Shiho, Shizuku’s sister is excited to move out and start living on her own. The family is rarely seen relaxing with each other but when there’s a crisis, they come through stronger than ever. It is seen in the way they deal with Shizuku’s decision to quit school on a whim. This is the moment Shizuku realizes how she absolutely lucked-out with her family. Her eyes gleaming with surprise as her parents told her to continue with her secret project if it was that important to her.
Deep inside, Shizuku knew how ridiculous giving up her education sounded but knowing that her family was there to support her was enough. So while Shizuku wears her annoyance at her sister and mother’s very bearable chides on her face, she is grateful.
Shizuku also takes comfort in the wise words of Shiro Nishi who instills in her the need to tell stories. He is, as I see it, the MVP behind Shizuku’s creative pursuit. Not only does he impart knowledge and wisdom about honing one’s craft to Shizuku but also feeds her creative mind with stories she loves to hear. Shizuku and Seiji’s budding romance is also one filled with hope and support for one another. They are my favorite Ghibli couple and for a good reason. Shizuku and Seiji don’t see the need for superfluous words in their relationship. They’d rather spend time talking about their dreams and passion and in the process, they motivate each other to be the best version of themselves.
Whisper of the Heart is not to be missed, especially now that it is on Netflix alongside some other Ghibli greats.
Before I forget, my other takeaway from Whisper of the Heart is that cats can change your life. But here’s to the unpolished, undiscovered gem in you!
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Sources: Whisper of the Heart movie
Featured Image: Official poster of the film