Whisper of the Heart
This movie is available on laserdisc from Japan and in fan-subtitled versions elsewhere.
Fourteen-year-old Shizuku notices something strange...all the library books she has checked out have been borrowed before by some boy named Amasawa Seiji. (Since "Whisper" is based on a shoujo manga, or girls' comic book, you can bet that at some time during the movie she will meet this mysterious Mr. Amasawa.) Shizuku loves books and reads them whenever she can, and so she makes many trips to the library. When she encounters a cat commuting on the city's rail system, she follows him to a little shop, where her story begins to unfold.
Much of this movie is about creativity. Inspired by what she has seen and done, and encouraged by her friends, Shizuku writes an adventure story with a fierce passion that writers, artists, builders, and programmers will recognize. For young watchers, this movie may validate and encourage their own passion. Their parents should watch also, and in some cases consider if they are ready to cut their potential prodigies some slack rope in pursuit of their dreams (in Shizuku's case, though, it was more than enough to hang herself with). Speaking as someone who was on the receiving end of such freedom, this reviewer attests to its potential value, although neglecting other areas of one's life can be hazardous to one's normal development.
This movie is set in modern-day Tokyo and is a fun way to learn about school life there without the distractions of magic and martial arts that distort reality in other anime. Viewers see how students court one another in middle school: one of Shizuku's friends gets a "love letter" from an admirer who cannot just walk up and introduce himself - it's just not done that way in Japan, as a rule. (Shizuku is a bit of an aberration, though; her parents, who are remarkably liberal as Japanese parents go, don't require her to go to cram school every night to fill her with facts that will get her into the best possible high school.)
Though unusually heavy on the synthesizers, the music is lively and fun. Animation quality is equal to other Studio Ghibli works: inimitable backgrounds, but not enough drawings per second when detailed motion is depicted. There is a slight blurring of fantasy and reality in this movie, but the story features mostly real people living mostly real lives, which is a nice break from most American animation.
Approach: Upbeat, shoujo-style romantic.
Parent's guide: Recommended for all ages. No violence at all, no nudity, no sex, and no foul language, except for one crass word in translation ("p----d"). Boys of certain ages are likely to be bored. Shizuku's older sister appears in a brassiere for a few seconds. Since it has absolutely nothing to do with the story, it is probably culturally obligatory (or cleverly placed to snap the boys to attention just as they nod off, perhaps). The ending has an event which may not seem natural to American viewers; a study of Japanese culture will explain it.
Note: Shizuku's mom and dad seem to let her stay up late. Very, very late. Parents should be prepared to explain why sleep is important for growing bodies.
Review by Bryan Pfaffenberger:
This is THE film to watch with your young adolescents. It's a magical and touching film about the first stirrings of love and self-discovery, both of which unfold in the unparalleled artistry of Miyazaki's animation.
You may find yourself in awe of the artistry. Every frame of this remarkable film cries out, "Watch, just watch, there is beauty and poetry in every moment, however mundane it might seem." Miyazaki's eye watches over all, noticing every little detail -- a child's arm reaching for a lamp, unable quite to reach it, the satisfying electric hum of a train accelerating out towards the suburbs, the beauty of the trees seen throught the library window -- with a kind of knowing benevolence. Miyazaki transforms the mundane into an enduring epiphany of almost overpowering beauty, and you hear his kindly but insistent voice, saying "Look, don't you see?"
It's a film that you could savor for its astounding artistic beauty alone, but the master has a story to tell. The characters come alive, transcending their representations, taking on depth and life and meaning. You come to know the characters over time -- there's no rush to introduce, and no character is wooden-- it's rather that time unfolds, and the story tells itself, with all the characters evolving and changing at their own pace (girlfriends overcoming star-crossed romances, sisters moving out, mothers finishing graduate school). You feel that Miyazaki loves and understands all of them -- he doesn't see evil, only misunderstanding. Woven throughout this beautiful film is a kind of magic, a warm love, that works away at you, oh so insistently, until whatever defenses you might have had break down. And let me tell you, it's Kleenex time!
This is a very beautiful film for parents and junior high/early high school kids to watch together; there is an important moment in which the young protagonist needs a little space, a little time, to find herself, to discover who she is and what she can be, and her parents -- although it is painful for them and they do not completely understand -- her parents decide, in a telling moment, to give her the space she deserves and needs.
Additional comment by Andrian Harsono:
Just a short note. The series has been excellently described by the above previews but I tought I should mention about one part of the story which shocked me quite a bit. At the very last scene, the boy proposes to the girl in marriage (mind you, she's only 14!) at which point she accepts! This is bound to result in veeeeery interesting discussions...
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