Whisper of the Heart Blu Ray Review

The Film
You could be forgiven for thinking that Studio Ghibli exists exclusively to make and release the work of anime auteur Hayao Miyazaki, but you’d be wrong. Whisper of the Heart is the first, and sadly only, directorial effort of Yoshifumi Kondō, who was expected to go on to become a director of similar renown to Miyazaki and Isao Takahata, but sadly passed away a few years after making this film, aged just 47. Though the screenplay, based on the manga by Aoi Hiiragi, is by Miyazaki, Whisper of the Heart feels markedly different in style and tone to his directorial works, and to much of the anime we get to see in the West. The film largely lacks the elaborate flights of fantasy you usually find in anime (and, to be fair, in most animated films), and is instead a small, intimate, story about two young people finding themselves and each other.

Shizuku Tsukishima is in her last year of middle school (making her 13 or 14), she’s a good student, and spends much of her time reading and writing (including writing Japanese lyrics for her friends to sing for English language songs). One day she notices that many of the books she has borrowed from the library have also been checked out by Seiji Amasawa, and she begins to wonder what he can be like. Shizuku and Seiji eventually meet and become friends, and, Shizuku confides to a friend, perhaps more, but Seiji wants to go away to Italy and become a violin maker like his Grandfather. While he is away for two months, trying to discover whether he has the talent for his chosen career, Shizuku sets herself a similar task, and begins writing.

For the most part, Kondō uses the film’s beautifully animated visuals not to create an alternate world, but to tell a very real world story. In fact his style is one of straight drama for the most part. There are familial dramas between Shizuku, her parents and her nagging older sister, and the little day to day dramas of being a teenager; friendship, first love, figuring out who you are, all beautifully rendered. At times the situations feel so familiar and the animation is so natural and fluid that you can almost forget that you are watching drawings, not people. However, this isn’t to say that Whisper of the Heart is exactly social realism, when Shizuku visualises the story she is writing the style is more recognisably typical of Ghibli (and the fantastic vistas that her leading character takes her through are beautiful), but even in the real world there are little moments of… not so much fantasy, but perhaps serendipity, suggesting a slight air of magic. The most notable of these comes in a long sequence in which Shizuku sees a cat while sitting next to her on the train, and then follows it when it gets out at her stop, leading her to a beautiful shop full of curiosities.

For me though I think the film is best when it feels most real. In one lovely sequence, just before she has discovered who he is, Shizuku, Seiji and Seiji’s grandfather bond as they play and she sings a version of Country Roads that she has translated. There’s a wonderful sense of the music bonding and binding these two characters, and in the subsequent scenes the film capably conveys that confusing mix of feelings that come with the first time you wonder if this might be what love feels like. What’s also nice is that the film doesn’t have its characters throw everything to the wind for each other, it recognises that they are both kids and individuals, and this is as much a film about Shizuku and Seiji finding themselves as it is about them finding each other. It’s Shizuku’s journey we follow, and because she’s such a well rounded and sympathetic character it’s a journey we’re absolutely behind. The family scenes are also excellent, yes the characters are slightly broad; busy Dad, harried Mum, bitchy Sister, but the parents do develop, and become very human characters as they grow more concerned when Shizuku leaves school work on the back burner to work on her story.

The pace is slow, but this really helps ground the film in a believable world, and allows the relationships to develop in a way that feels somewhat realistic. This is a bit undermined by the film’s ending, which is a little cloying even if, as I suspect, it isn’t supposed to be taken entirely at face value. On the whole though I liked Whisper of the Heart very much. It springs few surprises, but it’s well told and features strong characters and vocal performances, as well as boasting beautiful and involving animation, it’s definitely one of my favourite Ghibli efforts to date.

The Blu Ray
Animation generally looks spectacular on Blu Ray, and Whisper of the Heart proves no exception. It looks like a brand new film, with vibrant colours, clean, sharp lines and great clarity of detail. I could spot no problems with the encoding, and subtitles are reasonably sized and very readable.

A good spread of extras begins with the ability to watch the films with original storyboards for each sequence, as a Picture in Picture feature. It’s a welcome feature for animation geeks, and a fun glimpse of the process, but for me it’s a feature to dip in and out of. Background artwork from the Baron’s Story is just what it sounds like; an animated slideshow of backgrounds from the fantasy sequence showing Shizuku’s story. Again, this feels to me like one for animation geeks, personally I’d rather see these with the story animation intact, or with some analysis of their part in the process, gorgeous though they are. 4 Masterpieces of Naoisha Inoue is a series of time lapse paintings, which seem to be either background or concept art. Again, very beautiful, but I’d appreciate some context. Behind the Microphone presents brief interviews and background footage with the cast of Whisper of the Heart‘s English language dub. At just 8 minutes there’s little depth, but it’s fun, and the English track seems okay from this feature (I didn’t sample it on the film itself though, irritatingly, the disc defaults to the English track if you just play from the menu).

Whisper of the Heart presents a rather unconventional piece of anime in a lovely looking and sounding Blu Ray edition, with extras that will hold great appeal for Ghibli and animation fans. It’s a fine package all in all.

Whisper of the Heart is out NOW. Thanks to StudioCanalUK for the screener.

About The Author

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.