Whisper of the Heart

I want to complain about being an anime critic every now and then. The pay is non-existent, people yell at you when you don't give their favorite shows high rankings, and you tend to watch a lot of garbage you wouldn't even contemplate seeing if you weren't trying to review the widest amount of material possible. I was in a mood to complain about such things recently, but then I saw Whisper of the Heart. If anything, Whisper of the Heart is an otaku's redemption. It's a gentle, kind film that not only restores faith in the medium of anime, but also serves to show that the form can do far more than give us robotic battles and girls with guns...it can touch the very core of who we are. This is a simple film filled with ordinary people doing ordinary things; it finds magic in small pleasures and stolen glances. Although the very last note is slightly off, it's a testament to the movie's strength that it doesn't even really matter...Whisper of the Heart is superb in every sense. Produced by Miyazaki's famous Studio Ghilbi, this is a charming masterpiece.

Whisper of the Heart is about Shizuku, a girl finishing up junior high who's just not sure exactly what her place will be in life. She's an avid reader, and she's determined to finish at least 20 books over the summer. However, she's stunned to find that virtually every book she's checked out of the library has been read first by Amasawa Seiji. She daydreams what this person must be like who could share her interests so very well...and yet she knows there's little time for fairy-tale romance when exams to test into high school are just around the corner. Still, Shizuku expresses herself through attempting to translate the old John Denver song "Country Roads" into Japanese. If it weren't for that annoying boy she keeps running into on the street, life would be OK. But then again, that boy might just be right for her after all...and so we see the facets of Shizuku coming together as she starts to mature into a young woman.

Whisper was directed by Yoshifumi Kondo, an extremely gifted animator who worked with Hayao Miyazaki and Isao Takahata (the two principle directors at Studio Ghibli) for years. Sadly, Whisper of the Heart was to be his directorial debut and finale, as he passed away suddenly in 1998. This is a certain tragedy, for Kondo is able to create a world just as captivating as anything in his friends' films. What's more stunning is that he is able to create emotion and bond in a realistic world relatively free from Miyazaki's enjoyable but distracting fantasy elements and Takahata's typical reliance on sentimentalism. Don't misunderstand, because both are masters, but they have some weaknesses that don't hold true for Kondo. At any rate, it's clear that this film has a fine pedigree.

What's simply stunning is that nothing gets in the way of telling the wonderful, understated story here. The animation is superb, not overly catchy but muted when appropriate and gorgeous when it needs to be. The soundtrack, color palette, etc. all work together to provide us with a small corner of Japanese life. On one hand, the film certainly succeeds at providing a look at how modern-day Japan (outside of the big cities) has melded the islands' natural beauty with the needs of society. If I could prove that the vistas shown in the film indeed existed, I'd likely find myself on the next plane over, they are so impressive! On the other hand, the beauty of the artwork only enhances the story. Though my summary of the film leaves out many details, it's intentional...Whisper of the Heart is a film to be discovered and enjoyed. It's great on many layers. I will say that there is a dramatic misstep at the very, very end of the film, but everything else plays so well that it's not nearly as important as it could be. See the movie, and you'll understand what I talking about. In plain English, most films cannot overcome any strains in their closings; this one certainly can and does.

On the grading scale I use, an A simply doesn't cut it...this film earns extra credit. It's easily one of the best anime ever made, ranking up with Wings of Honneamise and My Neighbor Totoro, and a film that can stand with the best cinema, live-action or not. Although rumors persist that Disney is working to release this film, it would be a surprising choice, particular since language translation in and of itself is a plot point. Nevertheless, if you can find a fansub (or, more likely, a raw print with a copy of the script), you must see this film. It's enough to rock even the most jaded anime fan.

Whisper Of The Heart -- nothing objectionable -- A+