Fans of animation have come to expect great things from Studio Ghibli
Fans of animation
have come to expect great things from Studio Ghibli films but for anyone going
through the back catalogue, Whisper of the Heart may disappoint. Based on the manga of the same name,
this 1995 coming-of-age film is now available on Blu-ray but despite its charm
and beauty, the hardcore Ghibli crowd may find themselves dissatisfied with
Shizuku Tsukishima (Brittany
Snow), a middle-school girl whose nose is always in a book, embarks on her
first adolescent relationship with the antagonistic yet sensitive Seiji. The two inspire each other to follow
their dreams but Shizuku struggles to cope when Seiji’s passion for making
violins leads him to move away to Italy.
Fighting with her family over her future, Shizuku is sure that if she
can write a whole book by the time Seiji returns, she’ll prove to them that she
has what it takes to follow her heart.
The animation is, of course, beautiful with the clean lines
and realistic motion we’ve come to love from Ghibli films, but there seems to
be a missing element. With other
movies from the Studio’s collection, the magic is laid on thick and the
fantastic characters and landscapes are plentiful, but here there are only a handful
of scenes like that and, disappointingly, they all take place inside Shizuku’s
imagination. The limited fantasy
scenes are enjoyable and were popular enough to inspire a spin-off film, The Cat Returns, and if the short
sequences featured in Whisper are anything
to go by, it’s worth seeking out.
Many reviews have written of the film’s feminine appeal as a
negative, complaining that boys won’t relate to the female perspective. Ridiculous as that might sound
considering how many Ghibli films feature girls as lead characters, the thing
boys might not relate to is the sentimentality of the adolescent drama that
surrounds Shizuku. Crushes and
gossip are inherently girly and the preconception that boys won’t ‘get it’ is understandable. And although the film is never
especially flowery or romantic, the scene of Shizuku and Seiji standing on a
balcony at sunset discussing inspiration is eye-roll inducing, to say the least.
The special features on the Blu-ray include a
‘Behind-the-mic’ look at the English language recording sessions with
interviews from the American cast: Brittany Snow, Ashley Tisdale, Jean Smart
and Cary Elwes. There’s also some concept art,
storyboard comparisons and a collection of trailers for other Ghibli films,
both classic and recent. It’s a
pretty good package for a collector but the casual Ghibli fan will be able to
skip this one and not miss much.
Whisper of the Heart is charming in its own way but
struggles to match the imagination of My
Neighbour Totoro or the epic scale of Princess
Mononoke. It’s a sweet,
low-key affair but is hardly essential viewing.