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Shizuku Tsukishima is a schoolgirl in Japan,
Forgetful and neglectful and without a long-term plan.
She whiles away the hours reading books and fairy tales
And writes her own song lyrics, which she timidly unveils.
She notices that all of her library books were read
By Seiji Amasawa, and she muses in her head
What kind of person he might be, this other rival reader
Who seems to share her tastes and always chances to precede her.
While junior high school drama causes aches of heart and head,
She meets a jerkish boy and is upset by what is said.
One day, a feline leads her to an antique shop nearby,
Where kindly old man Nishi and a statue catch her eye.
When Nishi’s grandson Seiji, whom she earlier had met,
Allows her in to see it, she forgets she was upset.
He plans to fashion violins and plays at her request,
A song that shows the talents with which both of them are blessed.
Though romance now is budding, Seiji leaves to show his stuff,
Which makes Shizuku wonder if, for him, she’s good enough.
She tries to prove herself and write a novel within weeks,
Inspired by the Baron statue found among antiques.
Her parents start to worry as her grades begin to fall,
And all her time is taken by the book she cannot stall.
At last, when she is finished and her gem has been revealed,
Her future’s seeming clearer, and their love at last is sealed.

Does anyone out there have a movie with which they fondly relate on a deep, personal level? Whisper of the Heart is that film for me. I first saw this anime movie after being reintroduced to Studio Ghibli and holding a marathon of their films. I enjoyed almost all of them, but this one stayed in my mind and heart and is the only anime I own.

Shizuku is possibly the film character with whom I most identify: procrastinating, occasionally scatter-brained, devoted to her reading and writing sometimes at the expense of school and relationships, and deriving immense fear and pleasure from the appreciation of her work. I relate to her on multiple levels, whether it’s the adolescent uncertainty about the future, the apprehension of showing her creations to others, the way in which her inspirations seem to come to life, or the desire to prove herself as a writer. She even writes alternate lyrics to her favorite song, John Denver’s “Country Roads” (one of my favorites as well).

My VC joined me for this latest viewing at my insistence, and she found the film nice but “juvenile,” in her words, citing the soap opera-like crushes in the first half. I disagree; even if the characters are in junior high, they deal with life and familial issues that remain relatable. Indeed, the film’s greatest charm lies in its ordinariness, in everyday commutes to school, conversations among friends, the beautifully hand-drawn details of train rides and antique shops and sunrises. The film’s overall peaceful, mundane tone may be boring to many people, especially those who prefer the more exciting or fantastical anime, but I love this quiet, quotidian quality, which I’ve found in other favorite anime like The Girl Who Leapt through Time and Wolf Children. Yet, unlike these films which didn’t leave me wholly satisfied by the end, Whisper of the Heart offers hope for the future, at once corny and joyful, exactly the kind of hoped-for conclusion I enjoy.

That quiet mood isn’t everything, though; there are similar films that are just missing something and didn’t make my list, such as Ghibli’s own From Up on Poppy Hill. Perhaps it’s the use of “Country Roads,” which culminates in a stirringly quaint musical number midway through. Perhaps it’s the conversation with Shizuku’s parents (played by Jean Smart and James B. Sikking in the English version), in which they agree she should follow her heart but brilliantly buck that cliché with an important add-on so often omitted from other films. Most likely, it’s the role of writing in the plot; the second half, concerning Shizuku’s novel, features several conversations with wise Mr. Nishi, and I find his advice to her just as encouraging for myself. I’m also nursing a novel idea, and after watching this film, I always feel excited to write and to seek the “gems” within myself. What other movie has that effect?

The English dub is excellent throughout, particularly Harold Gould as Mr. Nishi and Brittany Snow as Shizuku. David Gallagher, Ashley Tisdale, and Cary Elwes are also featured as Seiji, Shizuku’s friend Yuko, and the Baron, respectively. Elwes later reprised his role in the lesser Ghibli film The Cat Returns, which really was juvenile at times but still only narrowly missed out on inclusion on my list. That film was essentially like a fantasy Shizuku would write, and I would have loved for perhaps an after-credits scene showing her finishing it as a successful writer married to Seiji; that would have been utterly satisfying and would have earned it a place on my list.

Hayao Miyazaki and Isao Takahata get all the credit as the masterminds of Studio Ghibli (and Miyazaki did produce and write Whisper of the Heart), but this my favorite film was directed by Yoshifumi Kondō, and it truly is a shame that he died just a few years after its release. Though I must admit that other films are better and deserve a higher place on the list, Whisper of the Heart will always be one of my fondest inspirations.

Best line: (Shizuku’s father, who’s concerned about her) “All right, Shizuku, go ahead and do what your heart tells you. But it’s never easy when you do things differently from everyone else. If things don’t go well, you’ll only have yourself to blame.”

Rank: 58 out of 60

© 2014 S. G. Liput

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