Whisper of the Heart (Japan: Mimi wo sumaseba), 1995.
Directed by Yoshifumi Kondô.
Featuring the voice talents of Brittany Snow, David Gallagher, Ashley Tisdale, Martin Spanjers and Cary Elwes.
A young girl discovers that every book she chooses in the library has been checked out by the same boy and sets out to meet her ‘Prince of Books’.
It could be convincingly argued that Studio Ghibli has set the current benchmark for 2D animation. As Disney did back in the 30s, or Pixar did for the 3D realm, they rise to the top of the heap. They are the benchmark that rival animated films must aspire to. Not simply is it a case of magnificent renderings, beautifully drawn, but at the core of all Ghibli films are stories with heart and imagination.
Whisper of the Heart ticks all the boxes expected from Hayao Miyazaki. It’s glorious on the eye and strikes a chord with its sweet natured story. At the centre of this tale is a young girl (another common feature in the Ghibli canon) who’s previously exemplary schoolwork is affected by an increasing amount of time spent reading books. She notices that every book she takes out from her library has previously been taken out by boy she doesn’t know. She finds herself compelled, and just a little infatuated with the mystery boy who has the exact taste in books she does. Matters become complicated when she finally meets him, only to take an initial (of course!) dislike to him. She follows a stray cat to an old antique store, to discover in a twist of fate, the boy also lives there, and becomes fascinated by one of the objects in the store (a cat figurine, missing its female partner). As is a staple with Miyazaki, the films theme is about discovering love and self-discovery in youth. It’s a story that is simple but charming.
Western audiences are most familiar with Spirited Away. It still remains Studio Ghibli’s finest work. It’s a magnificently absorbing and wonderfully imaginative fantasy adventure. Obviously, given Miyazaki’s name is connected with that and this (though he doesn’t direct this film), comparisons will be made. Those expecting the wonderment and other worldly fantasy of Spirited Away or Howl’s Moving Castle, will be disappointed. Whisper of the Heart is based in reality. There are a few flights of fancy through the fantasy of dreams, but it’s more a simple tale of young love. That said, this still manages to transport you to Japan wonderfully.
The animation is exemplary. The typically colourful palette of Miyazaki is again evident. It’s vibrant and eye-catching, yet realistic. Each setting is given time to be established, for the eye to wonder and appreciate the artistry. For some the film might move a little slowly, but it’s about given the viewer ample opportunity to become engrossed in the frame. Like the best in animation the film just seems to have a pulse, breath and soul. The creativity of the animators has poured out onto the cells to give life to the inanimate. In addition, the music by Yuji Nomi is atmospheric. Again, music is always memorable in the Ghibli back catalogue.
In all, this might not mark the most memorable or dazzling of Miyazaki’s movies, but it’s still a charming tale none-the-less. Perhaps this film veers considerably into girly territory. It’s not as accessible to the male audience as Spirited Away was (Dragons man!), but for appreciators of such things as story and character, there’s plenty to enjoy and of course, it’s not hard to get swept away by the sheer majesty of the artwork.